September 8, 2013
ORDINARY 23 (C)
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14: 27
These words are so commonly heard that we’ve lost the sense of just how outrageous they are. The cross is not an incidental part of the Christian life, but an essential part, & physical suffering is probably the least important part of it.
In a moving scene from “The River,” Jean Renoir’s beautiful film of India, a crippled American soldier is outraged over the cross he’s been given to bear. In his anguish, he asks a Hindu woman if there is anything he can do to make life worthwhile. She replies with a single word: “consent!”
To be the person God created us to be, we have to follow Jesus, & that means renouncing our ego-centered, cold, fear-driven, achievement oriented undistinguished selves. The message of Scripture is that we have been created for life WITH God. We are like branches that need to be nourished by the main vine, & if we become detached we begin to wither & die. We cannot be who we’re supposed to be on our own. But we try. OH how we try!
Some of us try to do it by making money & possessions & the thing called “security” our number one priority. There is nothing wrong with these things in themselves, but we tend to put all our trust in them to make our life worthwhile. But it never works.
Some try to do it through control over other people. Its gives us a temporary sense of power, but it is always temporary & ultimately self-defeating. Others try to do it with alcohol or drugs, but it too is always temporary – and then comes the crash. Some rely on the love of family & friends for a sense of worthwhileness, but these too can be fragile & end up breaking our hearts. For those who rely on achievements, who is going to remember them? There is a true story about a woman who was preparing to sell her house:
She had her 77 year old mother & some others come in to help get the place ready for showing to prospective buyers. Her mother was one of those “take charge” people, & she began to organize the work, giving orders, telling everyone what to do. In the afternoon she went out into the yard with her 74 year old sister to rake leaves. She began raking up a storm while her sister proceeded at a milder pace. Finally the older woman shouted, “Annie, if there’s anything I can’t stand it’s a lazy person.” Annie shot back, “Edna, did you ever stop to think that if there’s anything a lazy person can’t stand it’s you?”
A lot of us are like that. Ego-driven, we tear around like spoiled over-achievers, trying to get everybody to do things our way, trying to be in control, & in the process make life miserable for those around us. We may accomplish some good things, but because we are so ego-driven most of the good is nullified. The only power strong enough to break through that ego-structure & free us from bondage to it is the cross. It strips us of our illusions & kicks out from under us the false props we rely on for a sense of self-worth. The cross reminds us that apart from God we cannot give our consent to that which makes everything worthwhile.
The late Fulton J. Sheen describes his “most inspiring” moment:
A few years ago I visited a leper colony in Africa. I brought with me 500 small silver crucifixes to give to each victim of the dread disease. The first leper who came up to me had only a stump of his left arm. The right arm & hand were full of those telltale white open sores of leprosy. I held the crucifix a few inches above that hand & let it drop into the palm. At that moment there were 501 lepers in the camp, & the most leprous of them all was myself. I had taken the symbol of redemption, of divine love for man, of the humiliation of divinity into our poor, fallen human nature, & had refused to identify myself with all that that symbol implied.
It is so easy to love humanity in general but so difficult to love a particular man. It is easy to help the lepers, but when one meets a particular leper then a special effort is required. Seeing myself in the full shame of refusing to identify myself with this victim, I looked at the crucifix in the putrid mass of his hand & realized that I, too, must become one with suffering humanity. Then I pressed my hand to his hand with the symbol of love between us & continued to do it for the other 499 lepers.
It is in God’s love that we find our true security & our true hope & our true worthwhileness & our true rescue from the fear of death. In the long run, our deeds are more effective the more we trust in God, for then they come out of our true center where God is nurturing & healing. AMEN!