Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Blaine Barclay

‘’Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me, cannot be my disciple’’.  The Christian life is ’Cruciform’, discipleship is life lived under the form of the cross.  So what is the cross, and what does it mean to take up our cross and follow Jesus?

Crucifixion is one of the cruelest forms of public execution ever invented by human beings.  A stake or vertical log of wood was driven into the ground, the condemned criminal would carry the horizontal crossbar to the place of execution, their wrists were nailed to this horizontal bar, the wrists in order to hold the weight of the body which was lifted up and secured to the vertical stake, their feet nailed to this bar.  A person could live up to two or three days hanging on a cross.  More often than not, they died of a combination of dehydration and suffocation.  The fact that Jesus died so quickly is a sign of how much he was beaten and tortured prior to his crucifixion.

So, given this stark and graphic picture of crucifixion, how is it that this most ignoble of deaths becomes a means of our salvation and the sign of what it means to be a follower of Christ, a Christian disciple?  Could salvation really come to the world through broken crushed human flesh?  Could the dead body of the Messiah, the suffering servant, really morph into transfigured Glory?  I think we can sometimes become so accustomed, so comfortable with the cross as a religious symbol that we can lose sight of just how much of a shock and disruption it would have been for the first Christians to think of God in this way.  St. Paul tells us that the cross of Christ was, ’’a scandal or stumbling block to the Jews, and foolishness to the pagans’’.  In his letter to the Philippians Paul tells us about the ’kenosis’, the self emptying nature of God in Christ, both in the Incarnation, God becoming a human being, and in his death on the cross. The wisdom of the cross is foolishness to the world.  The wisdom of the cross is scandalous to our ordinary everyday way of making sense of our lives.  The cross is the great reversal of human history, it is the hinge of salvation. Here are a few examples of the logic of the cross; the first shall be last, the last shall be first, in weakness strength, happy are the poor, unless you become like a little child, the lowly lifted up, the rich sent empty away, the blind will see, the lame will walk, the deaf will hear, find yourself by losing yourself, self emptying, self donation is the path to the fullness of life.  The cross, if we could see it for what it is, is shimmering with Glory, oozing already with the promise of the resurrection, but not without first traveling the royal road of the cross.  There is no resurrection except on the other side of the cross.  The door of heaven is Cruciform.

Carrying our cross is not just a matter of enduring the suffering and death that life will inescapably send our way, not even embracing all this in the light of faith.  This is all well and good, even ordinary human suffering, grief, or loss, with patient trust can before redemptive.  As Leonard Cohen says, ’’wounds are /sometimes/ the way the light gets into the world’’.  But taking up our cross and following Jesus is something more.  You and I, disciples in training, student apprentices to the Lord Jesus, are meant to embrace the cross.  The disciple is meant to die to self, St. Paul says, ’the old human nature is crucified’ (Rom. 6:6).  We are justified before God, made righteous, not by works of the law but by faith in the crucified one.  To trust in our own capacities in this regard, St. Paul tells us, is to make ourselves, ’an enemy of the cross’. (Phil.3:18).  We look to Jesus, we gaze upon the cross, or, is it that the crucified God-man gazes upon us, inviting us into the way of the cross. ’’Come follow me”, says Jesus.  Take up with me the path of self-emptying self-donation.  Do not be afraid of love, of stretching out your arms with Jesus on your cross.

‘’ Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me, cannot be my disciple.’’