24th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
September 12, 2021
We encounter another Jesus’ hard saying. Jesus gathered His disciples and other people who wished to follow Him and said at least three conditions if they committed to Him and His mission. These three are “deny yourselves, carry your crosses and follow Me!” These requirements are genuinely challenging and demanding for all Jesus’ disciples from every age and place. Yet, what do these conditions mean for Jesus’ first followers?
The first condition is to deny ourselves. This means to say no to ourselves, but what does it mean for Peter, James, John, and those who listened to Jesus for the first time? Considering the historical context, many Jesus’ disciples and followers expected Him to be the Messiah-like King David, a brilliant general, a politically dominant king. Jesus would march against the Roman forces and triumphantly trample them. Yet, Jesus introduced Himself as the Messiah who would suffer and die. Therefore, those who wanted to follow Him must say no to the very ideal and expectation they held dear, not to the initial reason they look for Jesus.
The second condition is to carry their crosses. This usually means that we need to endure various hardships and sacrifices in following Jesus faithfully. However, for Simon, Andrew, and the rest of the disciples, the cross had no other meaning but to face one of the most gruesome capital punishments in human history. They literally must die in horrible ways in following Jesus.
The third condition is to follow Jesus. This ordinary means that we must not only say we believe in Jesus, but we need to live up also to His teachings and commandments. Jesus told his disciples on another occasion, “But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation [Luk 6:49].” However, for Matthew, Philip, and His other first disciples, following Jesus means walking with Jesus toward Jerusalem. In this city, Jesus would confront the Jewish authorities and the Roman colonizers and have a final showdown with the forces of darkness. To follow Jesus means that the disciples began their way of the cross.
Basically, Jesus was asking His disciples to offer their lives and die. This is a crazy demand, yet what more insane is that His disciples literally followed Him. They gave up the idea of the triumphalist Messiah and embraced Jesus as the suffering servant of the Lord. They decided to travel with Jesus to Jerusalem and witnessed how their Master crucified and died. Finally, they carried their crosses and faced horrible deaths. Simon Peter and Andrew were nailed on the cross like their Teacher, and the rest shared the same lot. How is this impossible?
The answer is that though Jesus’ demands are almost humanly impossible, God gives necessary grace to fulfill these conditions. As the Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness [2 Cor 12:9].” Without supernatural help, our frail humanity will stand a chance. If then, the apostles who relied on God’s grace could offer the lives for Christ and attain eternal life, it is now our turn to allow God’s grace to work in us so God may do great wonders in us, and we finally receive the fullness of life.
Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP