TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY B HOMILY
THEME: WHOEVER WANTS TO FOLLOW ME MUST RENOUNCE HIMSELF, TAKE UP HIS CROSS AND FOLLOW ME
“Whoever wants to follow me must renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me”, declares Jesus in Mark 8:34. So, he gives three conditions for becoming a Christian; that is to say, his disciple:
1) Renounce oneself: That means rejecting or abandoning one’s will
2) Take up one’s cross: This implies enduring the difficulty caused by doing his commands. For example, practicing the indissolubility of marriage as Jesus teaches in Matthew 19:6; Or loving one’s enemies, as Jesus commands us in Matthew 5:44.
3) Follow Jesus: To do the will of Jesus; practice what he teaches.
Jesus himself renounces his own will and does the will of his Father: He lowers himself to become a suffering servant as prophesied by Isaiah 50:5-9., a ransom for sinners, a lamb of atonement, to be arrested, mocked, spat in the face, scourged, made to carry a wooden cross, accepting to be nailed on it and to die on it. Following a suffering servant connotes suffering with him. This is the requirement for having faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus still carries the cross of his scandalous disciples.
Generally, Jews had a wrong mentality about the awaited Messiah. They expected him to be born in a palace and to be the most powerful man on earth; one who would destroy the enemies of the Jews, including the Roman Empire and establish the most powerful Jewish empire. So, when Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus cautioned his disciples not to tell any one that he is the Messiah, because they would either reject him for he was not born in a palace. Or they would immediately proclaim him Emperor and start fighting for him; a move that would have caused their destruction. Jesus would not fight back, because he did not come to destroy enemies but to die for their salvation.
Peter himself did not expect Jesus to be a suffering Messiah. That is why he rebuked him, when Jesus taught that he would suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed. Consequently, Jesus commanded Peter to get behind him, so that Jesus who knew the painful way to salvation would lead. And immediately, Jesus gave the conditions for following him so that people do not follow him for wrong reasons of becoming rich and powerful in worldly matters.
Jesus came to save us by dying for us and not by destroying us. He wants us to follow the same principle in dealing with our enemies, people who insult us or annoy us. In Matthew 5:44 he commands: “Love your enemies!”. Love is the best weapon for eliminating enmity.
It is difficult to follow this principle of Jesus, because it makes us look like weaklings, losers or failures. Yet for God, the loser in worldly affairs is the winner in heavenly affairs! God works through apparent weaklings to perform wonders. Confer the boy David killing Goliath (1Sam 17:50); Gedeon winning the war with 300 weaklings Judges 7); Jesus whom Jews and Romans considered to be a failure now has an empire of over 2 billion people, the biggest empire that has ever existed and it is still growing through millennia, here on earth and in heaven. Yet Barabbas preferred by Jews because he could fight, simply caused destruction.
All this implies that, if we want to become saints, if we desire perfect peace and stability in our families, nations and between nations we need to employ the principle of Jesus. We need to renounce our pride and offer humble service to people; we need to suffer for the salvation of people instead of destroying them. This will prove that we are followers of Jesus who suffered and died for the salvation of sinners; Jesus who even gives us his own body and blood for our salvation. Humbling ourselves to save others, the family, the society, is not a sign of weakness but the power of love that saves.