He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,will save it.
(Mark 8:34-35 NRSV)
As Jesus begins the journey to Jerusalem and the cross he announces what awaits him – and what awaits those who follow him. To follow Jesus is to deny self. What does this mean? And to pick up the cross?
Lent is about this call to follow Jesus to the cross. Not only by remembering Jesus’ journey there and all that it did and does. But also to follow Jesus to the cross in my life and choices.
To deny myself means that I deny my right to choose except to choose Christ. How hard this is!!! To live each moment in voluntary self-surrender. To pray, as our Lord taught his followers, “Thy will be done” as a living, present reality and not just a future hope. It is one thing to ask God’s will – it is quite another to make that will the will of my life rather than my own.
To deny myself is to move myself from the center of my life and to place Christ at the center. This is harder yet. My dreams, hopes, plans, and experiences define me and the path I choose. They define as well my identity. To journey to the Christ is to move Christ to this place instead. If in Christ God has revealed his ultimate will, his true image of humanity then I can do nothing else.
The reason Jesus says we must lose our lives to do this is because there is no other way to make this shift. The person at the center – me – will not go quietly. Will not go at all. Only death of self will let that self move aside. And against all logic or human reason that self will then really live.