The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1)
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the antidote to the problems of the world around us. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the vaccine of truth against a pandemic of lies. Among the most wicked and deceitful of all of the lies around us today is the lie that we should do whatever we want in life. We should chase after pleasure and self-fulfillment. We should have everything that we want. The beauty of the gospel, the precious words of our Lord Jesus Christ, the most important, beautiful and powerful words that have ever been spoken, is that they correct our way of thinking and seeing and expose us to truth and light, if we are willing to accept them.
The world tells us not to suffer, not to deny ourselves anything that we want. Chase your desires. Follow your urges. Don’t hesitate at all. Everything can be yours. You can have it all. Yet the Lord Jesus Christ says something different and each one of us must seriously choose who or what we will honor and follow with our lives and our choices. We are not polytheists. We don’t worship multiple gods. So as Christians, it is up to us to take this call of following Christ seriously.
In today’s gospel Our Lord says “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Did you notice those words? “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself”. Since the beginning of humanity we recognize that the problems of the world and the corruption which entered into the world did so through the lack of self-control and self-denial of Adam and Eve. They were given everything upon earth. A plentiful and rich garden full of delights. Yet, this wasn’t enough. The deceiver, Satan, whispered into their hearts and made them desire that which they should not go after. That which God had forbidden. But Satan promised them that when they grabbed hold of it, they would forever be changed, and he wasn’t wrong.
In our lives, Satan whispers every single day to each of us. He tells us to pursue pleasure, to dedicate our lives to serving our own needs and desires. He tells us to sacrifice everything at the altar of our own gratification. He tells us that our feelings are more important than knowing and honoring the word of the Lord. And each Christian struggles with passions and sinful inclinations. But the fathers of the Church teach that pursuing these inclinations is a form of death to the soul. Following after these harmful things is like running away from God and His way and His life.
A Christian can have nearly anything that he desires in this life because God in His love for mankind allows us to have some freedom in our choices and decisions in life. He gives us life as a gift that we can use as we please (for a time). He desires our good, but He cannot compel us to the good. So a Christian can have almost anything he desires, but he can’t outrun the spiritual damage after he has partaken of things that are impure or evil.
The Lord Jesus Christ asks us to deny ourselves of whatever is harmful to our souls. We call these things sin. Murder, adultery, sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, lying, pornography, substance abuse, coveting, practicing homosexuality, pride, gossip and other such things are all paths that lead to darkness. Some of these sins have been repackaged and repurposed in order to make them more fashionable or to make them seem less problematic. But we can’t fool the Lord, we can only fool ourselves. No amount of reasoning or dialogue or tolerance or re-education or debate will transform what is sinful into something good and pleasing to God. I don’t say these things to you to disturb you, but to warn you and to give you courage. You are children of God and you must think and act like His children. St. Diadochus of Photike writes, “All of us who are human beings are in the image of God. But to be in his likeness belongs only to those who by great love have attached their freedom to God.” The Lord Himself will help and aid those who struggle faithfully.
It is important that we take the words of the Lord seriously and instead of indulging ourselves and everything that we are inclined towards, we must take the more difficult road and deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow after Christ. There is simply no other way to proceed if we want to know Christ intimately. He knows those who are kindred spirits to Him through purity, humility, obedience and love. And one of the greatest signs of love is self-sacrifice and denial of our desires. We don’t deny ourselves in order to pursue suffering or to make ourselves unhappy. We do it out of faith and love for Christ who taught us that this is the way to actually gain life. He tells us what we need, not what we think we need.
Our Lord asks a powerful question that helps us put all of this into perspective: “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul.” The world seems to offer you everything, but at a very heavy cost, the value of your soul which is precious and cannot be replaced. Yet the Lord offers you much more. He offers you an invitation to follow His footsteps and enter into His way. A chance to truly fellowship with Him and know Him as Lord and Master and this is exactly how we experience salvation. Not surprisingly this means that we should start with repentance because none of us is perfect. St. Nikolai of Zicha said “Repentance is the abandoning of all false paths that have been trodden by men’s feet, and men’s thoughts and desires, and a return to the new path: Christ’s path.”
Seek Christ’s path my brothers and sisters. His path is a journey to real life. How blessed we are that although we are insignificant, the Lord invites us to follow Him and to become partakers not only of the cross but of the joy and power of the resurrection? Truly He is the lover of mankind! Amen.