Denying self …. and taking up ..

by Pat Lee

(Based on Mark 8:31-38)

Mark does not waste words. In these 8 verses he has packed a lot.
Until this time Jesus has been healing people, calming storms, feeding thousands of people with few provisions, and teaching them in parables. But, suddenly, he tells them the most shocking thing they have ever heard from him so far.
In the preceding verses Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, and various answers were given. Peter had just declared, “You are The Christ.” (Meaning, ‘the anointed one’.)

Jesus now proceeds by telling them that he is going to suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and the teachers of the law. He is going to be killed and rise on the third day.
Just imagine yourself as one of those disciples. Remember, they think it’s menacing; but we know it’s hopeful. We have the aid of hindsight. So just think about what they would have experienced hearing that kind of news ….

Peter had just declared that Jesus was the anointed one. He, and the other disciples, were expecting that Jesus was the promised deliverer of God’s people, Israel, from the Romans. He was to be their King and rule over them, and “everything in the  garden would be rosy”. Now Jesus had shattered that dream.

Don’t you just love dear Peter. He takes Jesus aside and  starts to rebuke him (The Christ, by his own declaration). How could he? We don’t know exactly what Peter said, but Jesus then rebukes him. What Jesus says to Peter is one of the important statements in this passage. He rebukes Peter by telling him that he does not have the things of God in his mind but things of men. We need to take special note of that. Do we have the things of God in our minds, or the things of people?

Jesus then turns to the rest of the disciples and calls the crowd, who were already gathered, to come closer. He then makes another, even more important statement.  He tells them that if they want to follow him, they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him. We, you and I, must “take up our cross and follow him”.
Does that mean that we should wander round the streets of Tairua carrying a cross? Of course not, but it does mean that our minds need to be on the things that God wants us to do, in his service. Last week in the intercessions I said: “Help each of us to be open to the promptings of the Spirit and willingly follow those promptings to do whatever is required of us.” This fits well with today’s gospel passage.

I recently read a most interesting book. It was called Hospital by the River, written by Dr Catherine Hamlin, an Australian married to a New Zealander. Both of them were obstetricians and gynaecologists, as well as Christians. In 1959 they felt God call them to leave Australia, where they were living at the time, and go to Ethiopia, for three years, to start a School of Obstetrics, as there was a great need for one in that country.
What they discovered when they got there was shocking and appalling. They found that young women, some as young as 14, were giving birth to dead babies after five or six days in labour, suffering terrible injuries themselves from the birth process, and some even dying from their injuries and the lack of maternity care.
Through many trials, heartaches and lots of prayer, they were able to care for these women, change their lives by healing injuries and giving them back their dignity, and for some, the birth of a healthy baby. Over the period of time the books spans, thousands of young women were saved from being outcasts from their families and villages because of the terrible consequences of their injuries, and given  their lives back.

This book is heartbreaking, but at the same time gives the most wonderful feeling that these lovely Christian people were willing to do what God wanted them to, even although it was not what they originally went to do. They did eventually start the School of Obstetrics, and things have now greatly improved with many hospitals now equipped to help young Ethiopian women. Catherine’s husband died some years ago, but she carried on the work they were called to do. She was 92 in 2016 and still working, along with some of the many people she and her husband had trained to do this work. I think this is an excellent example of denying oneself and taking up one’s cross.

Lent is a time for us to face the challenge of what it means to be a disciple. Are we prepared to give up things which we love doing and do what God wants instead? Do we have the courage to follow his direction for our lives instead of own agendas, fearing what others may think of us? Jesus’s charge is an invitation for us to imagine living a life of concern for others, a life of true compassion for suffering, a life of giving to those in need, as Catherine and her husband did.

Fr Almquist in his commentary on today’s gospel passage says, “Every time we open ourselves to the needs of those around us, every time we actually take time to love someone who desperately needs our love, every time we get out of ourselves a little and seek not what we want but what the world needs, we get a little closer to what Jesus was talking about when he spoke of ‘taking up your cross and following me’.”

To conclude, let us use what St Francis wrote as a prayer:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

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