Sunday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (A)
My dear encountered couples:
“If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and begin to follow in my footsteps.” So spoke Jesus to his disciples. And you can be sure he was also speaking to you and me.
Jesus was speaking of something that involved self-denial. We will have to deny ourselves of things if we wish to be like him, if we wish to be his friend. We don’t like to hear that, do we? If there is one thing people shun Christianity or any religion for it is the self-denial involved. When the thought of religion enters one’s mind, so do thoughts of things one might have to give up.
And as repugnant as that might be to people (none of us likes to have to give up things desirable to us), millions of people still join Christianity and other religions that involve self-denial. Why is that? Because their hearts are set on something much better than what they are giving up. To them what they sacrifice is of much lesser value than what they gain.
For instance: Many have taken, and are taking, vacations this summer. And as you know, if you have gone anywhere, vacations are expensive. Rooms in motels and hotels, especially those facing an ocean or a beautiful mountain view, cost an arm and a leg. Food, even at McDonalds, takes a hefty chunk out of your wallet.
Soft drinks from dispensing machines and convenient stores, ice cream cones and hot dogs from anywhere are often priced like diamonds at Tiffany’s. Take your children to an amusement park and the prices will take your breath away much quicker than the corkscrew roller coaster.
If you’ve been on a cruise, a trip to the islands or to foreign countries, you know that the price is well beyond a year’s wages of a laborer in a third world country. Vacations are expensive, no doubt about it. In spite of that, millions of Americans wouldn’t think of letting a summer go by without one. And to do that, do you know what they do? They practice self-denial. They sacrifice!
They work and slave, scrimp and save, they deny themselves of many things for an entire year so they are able to take a one or two weeks’ vacation. Fifty or fifty-one weeks of work for one or two weeks of fun. Is it worth it? Depends on what you think is worth it, doesn’t it? Depends on what you value more.
When we value something highly enough we will go to any means to obtain it, then to keep from losing it. Our sights are on the goal, our heart is with the prize. We give up this, sacrifice that, do many things we wouldn’t ordinarily do in order to get what we want. That’s what is called self-denial. We practice self—denial, we engage in self-denial every day. Every choice we make in life involves a denial of some kind.
Get out of bed and we deny ourselves a longer sleep, stay in bed and we are missing the world. Watch television soaps all day and we deny exercise to our minds. Read and study instead of watching the soaps and we miss the latest marriages and divorces.
We can’t go to work and play golf at the same time. But if we play golf instead of going to work we might not to be able to afford to play golf the next time. Marriages, friendships, all good relationships require self-sacrifice on the part of everybody involved. We all sacrifice, we all deny ourselves of things for other things we want, especially for people we love.
If you still don’t have a clear idea of what self-sacrifice and self-denial is, ask an athlete. To be able to play any game - football, baseball, basketball, whatever - and to play it well, involves ongoing, continuing, daily self-discipline, self—sacrifice, self-denial.
So you want to be a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, or an architect, then be prepared to spend a lot of time hitting the books while others are drinking beers and watching games. So you want to be a movie star, a rock star, win a beauty contest, or lose weight. That’s just fine. It’s your decision. But what will you have to give up to accomplish any one of those?
What Jesus is saying in our gospel today is that if we are interested in walking in his company, if we are interested in being his friend, we are going to have to leave behind and walk past many other desires. For those who are really interested in being Christian, yes, sacrifice and self-denial must happen. But it won’t be so much of a big thing for those who sincerely love Christ, for those who really value the things of heaven. For they will be getting much more than they will be missing out on.
Jesus said to his disciples: “If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and begin to follow in my footsteps. Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would a man show if he were to gain the whole world and ruin himself in the process?”
Jesus thought you were worth giving up his very life for. What is he worth to you?