LET HIM DENY HIMSELF AND TAKE UP HIS CROSS AND FOLLOW ME
(A biblical refection on THE 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME [YEAR B] – 16 September, 2018)
Gospel Reading: Mark 8:27-35
First Reading: Isaiah 50:5-9; Psalms: Psalm 115:1-6,8-9; Second Reading: James 2:14-18
The Scripture Text
And Jesus went on with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I am? And they told Him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered Him, “You are the Christ.” And He charged them to tell no one about Him.
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He said this plainly. And Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him. But turning and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.”
And He called to Him the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For who ever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:27-35 RSV)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says we have to deny ourselves and take up our cross if we want to follow Him. He promises whoever saves His life will lose it and whoever gives his life for Him and for the Gospel will save it. Although taking up one’s cross can mean accepting life’s pains and disappointments, there is another possible interpretation.
In ancient times, very religious Jews who wanted to give their lives completely to God symbolically traced the Hebrew letter tau on their forehead. A tau looks like a + or an X. When a person traced it on the forehead, it meant the person belonged to God, similar to the brand put on cattle to identify their owner.
Since the tau resembled a cross, someone who dedicated their life to God in this way took up the cross. Therefore, the expression “to take up one’s cross” can mean giving one’s life to God. When Jesus says we have to deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow Him, he is talking about dedicating ourselves to Him. Those who save their lives (keep their lives for themselves) are the people who do not give their lives over to Him. These people are more concerned with their own pleasures than with pleasing God and, because of this, they will lose their chance at eternal life with Jesus in heaven.
On the other hand, those who give their lives for Jesus’ sake (freely dedicate themselves to Him) live for God rather than for self. God will reward them with eternal life.
Instead of tracing the tau on their foreheads, the early Christians dedicated themselves to Jesus by placing their right hand on their left shoulder and their left hand on their right shoulder, thus making an X (tau) across their chest. This practice gradually evolved into what Catholics and some other Christians now all “making the sign of the cross”. The sign of the cross is like our brand mark with which we identify ourselves as belonging to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 204-205.)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, by Your Holy Spirit make me ready to lose my life for Jesus i.e. to give myself to Him. I do not want to hold something back, i.e. saving my life for myself. I also pray that I will be able to give more of myself to Jesus. Amen.
Jakarta, 14 September 2018
A Christian Pilgrim