September 10, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

Discipleship requires self-sacrificing love

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it” (Mk 8:34-35).

The Gospel reading for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mk 8:27-35) teaches us about the nature of Christian discipleship. If we wish to follow Jesus, we must be willing to set aside our personal interests, including our comfort and security, and “take up our cross,” the cruel instrument of capital punishment that was the cause of Jesus’ death.

Pope Francis reminds us frequently that we cannot be passive or indifferent—remaining on our “comfortable couches.” In his Angelus message on Aug. 30, 2020, Pope Francis said, “The life of Christians is always a struggle. The Bible says that the life of the believer is a militancy: fighting against the bad spirit, fighting against evil. If we want to be [Jesus’] disciples, we are called to imitate him, expending our life unreservedly out of love of God and neighbor.”

In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mk 8:27) They repeat what they have heard people speculate: Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets. “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks. Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Christ” (Mk 8:29).

Peter’s bold affirmation of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One, the long-awaited Messiah, does not prevent him from protesting against Jesus’ prophecy that “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days” (Mk 8:31).

On the contrary, as Pope Francis observes, “At the prospect that Jesus may fail and die on the cross, Peter himself resists and says to him: ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!’ ” (Mk 8:32) The pope describes the conflict Peter finds himself in. “He believes in Jesus; he wants to follow him, but he does not accept that the Lord’s glory will pass through the Passion.”

If we are honest, we must admit that most of us find ourselves in a similar dilemma. We believe in Jesus and we want to follow him, but we balk at what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian who was hanged by the Nazis in 1945, called “the cost of discipleship.”

Like St. Peter in Sunday’s Gospel reading, we would prefer not to associate the joy of Christian faith with the sacrifices, including martyrdom, that are required of Christ’s followers.

St. Mark tells us that Jesus’ response to Peter was immediate and uncompromising. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mk 8:33). God’s ways are not our ways, and the cost of discipleship is clear: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it” (Mk 8:35).

Pope Francis has described the two attitudes the Christian disciple is called to have: to renounce oneself, meaning to convert, and to take up one’s cross. Both require humility and the willingness to abandon our self-interest. “It is not just a matter of bearing the daily tribulations with patience,” the pope says, “but of bearing with faith and responsibility that part of the effort and that part of suffering that the struggle against evil entails.”

The second reading for this Sunday from the Letter of St. James (Jas 2:14-18) gives a clear idea of some the practical implications of “the cost of discipleship.” St. James asks:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:14-17).

Following Jesus demands that we first “take up our cross.” This means that we must be willing to practice what we preach. It also means we must be ready to sacrifice our own interests for the good of others.

Let’s pray for the grace to recognize Jesus as the Christ, our Lord and Redeemer. Let’s also pray for the willingness to abandon our own self-interest in order to follow Jesus in doing good works for the sake of others. †

Local site Links: