Take Up Your Cross, And Follow Me
Today’s passage of the Book of Deuteronomy sums up the meaning and theology of the whole book: Israel is the chosen people of God, as its past experience clearly manifests: the exodus and liberation, God’s theophany on Sinai and the covenant, the journey to the Promised Land. God is a faithful, loving God. And so Israel owes God a response of faithful love.
In the gospel Jesus presents the Christian life by means of three equivalent expressions. It means: to renounce oneself – that is, to accept God’s way of thinking and acting rather than one’s own; to take up the cross – that is, to take the risk of undergoing the fate of the Master and give up personal security; and to follow Jesus – that is, to accept the guidance of Jesus, his gospel, not only in theory but also in practice. Are we ready to do this? Is this what the Christian life means for us?
1 Reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-40
Moses said to the people: “Ask now of the days of old, before your time, ever since God created man upon the earth; ask from one end of the sky to the other: Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, with his strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors, all of which the LORD, your God, did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? All this you were allowed to see that you might know the LORD is God and there is no other. Out of the heavens he let you hear his voice to discipline you; on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard him speaking out of the fire. For love of your fathers he chose their descendants and personally led you out of Egypt by his great power, driving out of your way nations greater and mightier than you, so as to bring you in and to make their land your heritage, as it is today. This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the LORD is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other. You must keep his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you today, that you and your children after you may prosper, and that you may have long life on the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you forever.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 77:12-13, 14-15, 16 and 21
R. (12a) I remember the deeds of the Lord.
I remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I remember your wonders of old.
And I meditate on your works;
your exploits I ponder. R.
O God, your way is holy;
what great god is there like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
among the peoples you have made known your power. R.
With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
the sons of Jacob and Joseph.
You led your people like a flock
under the care of Moses and Aaron. R.
Alleluia: Matthew 5:10
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness;
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Matthew 16:24-28
Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay each according to his conduct. Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”
The exhortations to love and adore Yahweh in the Book of Deuteronomy are both stirring and filled with a lyric quality. Indeed, what people had ever heard the voice of their god? Our God is one who has drawn near to us, lifted us out of bondage, and brought us to the land he promised. Deuteronomy is strong on motivation. In view of God’s goodness, he must be our only God, and his commandments and statutes must be observed. And much later, Joshua son of Nun (Josh 24:15) voiced this sentiment when he says, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Matthew today transposes the discussion to another level. In the Christian life, there is no glory without the cross; there is no life without a death. Who among us can deny that the self is always standing in the way of good intention? We tend to want to satisfy our desires and give them priority, but it cannot be that way. We are continually faced with human need, with coming to the aid of another. The Christian must stand ready at every turn to die to personal interest and generously give of self to God and others. Bitter in-takes are best meal for the human body.
The return of Christ in glory will be the time of retribution. Verse 28 cannot refer to the evangelist’s contemporaries; it most likely refers to the inauguration of the kingdom with Christ’s death and resurrection. But the injunction is clear enough. “It is not an easy road”, sings the old song. Thus, there is no easy way to glory, even though it may be accomplished joyfully and willingly. Our life is a challenge—let us embrace it.
“Take up your cross and follow me.” We must take up the cross demanded by faithfulness to the Gospel, our Christian community, our family, our task in life, with the blessing of almighty God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!