It is hard to see Him

For the readings, please see this link: 12th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C Readings PDF

Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

He does not ask us what we did or did not do, only to put a name on our relationship with him. For he knows that what we do or do not do for him flows from what we think of our relationship with him.

Some of the names that the people in the Gospel story gave were names of great prophets of the Lord of the Old Testament. Men like Elijah were known to be close to God and have great power that derived from that closeness. Some people recalled more recent great prophets, and John the Baptist came to their minds. Elijah and John the Baptist were great men of God, but they were just men. Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gave Jesus the the title that illuminated him as more than a great man. Peter said, “The Christ of God.” The Christ means the anointed one. Peter saw that Jesus was not merely a man. He saw that Jesus was the Son of God.

The name we give to our relationships with others usually implies how we interact with them. I named one woman as my wife, and the relationship of husband and wife is different than the relationship I have with any other woman in my life. The man I name as my employer is a man for whom I have different obligations and expectations than other men in my life. The men I call my friends are men with whom I have a particular relationship that is different from the one I have with acquaintances.

Jesus tells his disciples what naming him as the Christ of God implies for our relationship. He says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

If I choose to call Jesus of Nazareth the Christ of God, I know what that relationship implies. He said it clearly. I am to deny myself. I am to take up my cross every day. I am to follow him.

It is easy to repeat the words from Scripture. We spend the balance of our lives unpacking those words to understand them fully and embrace them. What does it mean to deny ourselves? What does taking up our cross every day mean? How do we follow Jesus in the 21st century when he no longer walks upon the Earth?

To deny ourselves and to take up our cross daily both point to the idea of sacrifice. A sacrifice is a holy offering. When we deny ourselves some treat during the season of Lent, it is not a demonstration of our ability to go forty days without something yummy like chocolate but a holy offering to God. To deny ourselves is also to say no to the egoistic impulse we all have within. We are all familiar with wants that insist they are needs, with whims that assert they are strategic, and with urges that demand satisfaction. We deny ourselves when we say ‘no’ to these internal voices of selfishness. As we learn to say no to those internal voices of ego, we learn to say yes to the eternal voice of Love.

Whe we say yes to the eternal voice of Love, we are taking up our Cross and following Jesus. That is what an authentic ‘yes’ looks like. Having said no to ego, we say yes to God and open ourselves to give of ourselves to him through giving of ourselves to our neighbor. In our families, our cross might be that we remain patient when we are already tired. When our children do something foolish or dangerous, we deny the rush of anger and say yes to the child of God standing before us, even if he is acting like a dangerous fool. When our parents act like ornery old coots, we deny the rush of disrespect and say yes to the Fourth Commandment to honor our father and mother.

Jesus tells us that following him, taking up our cross and following him, is the natural action that flows from naming him Christ. St. Peter followed that route after naming Jesus the Christ. St. Peter sacrificed his life for Jesus, leading the flock in Rome right up until his own death on a cross. We are supposed to follow in the same way. Some of us might be asked to witness our faith to the point of death, but all of us are asked to witness our faith by dying to sin. We sacrifice the old ways for the new life. We sacrifice, that is make a holy offering, of our old priorities and our old habits to God as we take on new disciplines and develop new habits.

So, let us say, “Jesus is the Christ.” And let our words be reflected by our lives. Let us live, “Jesus is the Christ.”

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