Lent is begun. Following the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, with its reminders to prayer and penance, today’s Gospel reading speaks to us of the choice we must make if we are to follow Jesus.
The scriptures, as we all know, are speaking to us out of a history which we are well aware of; and we know how the life of Jesus is vindicated in the Resurrection event. In other words, we know how the life of Jesus came to bear fruit in the Resurrection—and that culminating event of his life on earth gives meaning to all of the struggles that we undergo in wishing to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Knowing how a story ends is often the key to understanding many of the parts of the story that may have left us wondering why the story progressed a certain way. What did the people standing around Jesus think when he predicted his death at the hands of their religious leaders? Even more, what did they think when Jesus said that he would be raised on the third day?
We can’t impute too much blame on them if they thought that perhaps Jesus was not thinking and speaking rationally. What would they have going through their minds when Jesus asked them, or rather, made a condition of following him, that they would have to pick up a cross daily in order to be able to follow him.
This was no allegorical cross, the Greek stauros was an instrument of execution, not a figurative term for a toothache. For Jesus to recommend that his followers should carry the cross was to literally identify them with that Roman form of execution because the horizontal beam that would form the cross against the vertical stake was carried to the place of crucifixion by the one condemned to death.
We advance into Lent as those who choose to follow Jesus to the self-giving of the Cross. We rightly look for ways to put our personal advantage aside for a while; to choose a daily form of the Cross to identify with Jesus, whom we follow.
Since we know how the story ends, we can take heart in the words from Hebrews: For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross…
May our daily, Lenten cross bring us closer to the “joy that lay before him.”
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Missions for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.