Thursday after Ash Wednesday
As we read the Gospels, we get a sense that many people followed Jesus. At times these people are described as multitudes or even thousands when Jesus multiplied the bread. I can imagine the contemporaries of Jesus were inspired by his preaching, amazed by his teaching, stunned by his miracles and excited to hear Jesus debate the Scribes and Pharisees. But Jesus was never impressed by the size of the crowd. We also find times when Jesus turned to the multitude of followers and put them in a position of having to choose. This is the situation in today’s Gospel story.
"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." That is drawing a line in the sand! Jesus is asking the people whether they are fans or followers. Examples of fans are described later in this Chapter. First there is the man who tells Jesus that he will follow him. Jesus says the Son of Man has nowhere to place his head. The man disappears. Another man tells Jesus that he has to have time to bury his father. And finally a third man says he must first say goodbye to his family. These fans are saying that they want to follow Jesus but don’t ask too much of me. Don’t ask me to forgive the person who hurt me. Don’t ask me to let go of a grudge or bitterness. They want to pick and choose as if the teachings of Jesus were a buffet, where you take what looks good to you and ignore what you don’t like. A fan will tell you he or she wants to follow Jesus, but not right now. Now just isn’t a good time. We put Jesus off like we put off going on a diet. I’ll start tomorrow! Following Jesus half-way or part-time or half-hearted isn’t an option.
The invitation hasn’t changed. Jesus is still turning to the crowds and addressing us with the same words: "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." A fan admires the statement but never really acts on it. A follower responds to the invitation daily. A preacher said: "We are not invited to wear a cross; we are invited to bear a cross." We are invited to take up a cross, and we are given divine power to bear it in the spirit of Jesus. What particular cross do you need to bear this Lent?
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is Provincial Superior of Holy Cross Province and resides in Chicago.