The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1)
“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” That is the powerful question that is posed to the disciples and to us today. And it is such a fitting question for us because we are people who can engineer our lives to have almost anything and everything that we desire. If I can’t afford something, I can even buy it with a credit card. Yet we know that at some point down the road, we will have to pay back what we owe. Yet this is much more true regarding our souls. Our soul is given to us as a gift from God. A gift that we can choose to nurture and grow or that we can choose to neglect and disregard or even abuse. Either way, at the end, we will be responsible to answer for how we have treated our souls, what have we done with them and whether or not we still possess them.
Of all of the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, this is among the most important in the daily life of one who wants to follow the way of Christ, of one who wants to be called by the name of Christian. Our Lord Jesus Christ loves us, my dear brothers and sisters. He loves us. He cannot stand to see us far from Him and far from His Father. His desire is to have us present with Him at all times and especially in His kingdom. This makes sense doesn’t it? When we love people and enjoy their company we find that we want to be in their presence, to share time and space and life with one another. And the Lord Jesus desires to share all of this with us. But He tells us that the way won’t be easy and it definitely won’t be for everyone. The key to following the path laid out by the Lord Jesus Christ is to deny yourself.
We can imagine it in this way. All of life is a series of choices, a series of forks in the road. At each and every fork we are given an important choice, to turn to the left and follow the desires of our hearts whatever they may be, or to deny ourselves and turn to the right and follow after the Lord Jesus Christ. We are given this choice, to do what feels right, or to do what is right. And how often we find ourselves in the middle of this struggle! Perhaps for seasons of our life it feels like we are in this type of struggle daily. That we constantly have to reflect on where we are and what we are seeking in life. We are called to do this, with sobriety of heart and mind. We are called to remind ourselves of this question posed by the Lord Jesus “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” It’s not that the world is not offered to you. It is offered to you. Satan offered the whole world to the Lord Jesus Christ if only He would bow to him. It is offered to you. You can have it. But you can’t keep it and you definitely can’t have it and have your soul left intact. Sacrifices must be made either way. Either it is a sacrifice of our souls in order to gain our wants and desires. Or else it is a sacrifice of our wants and desires in order to gain our souls renewed in Christ.
Every single day Christians have to choose the way of denial, the way of the cross. Whether you are husbands or wives or parents or friends, whatever stage of life you are in, every day is another opportunity to see just how far we can go in setting aside our wants (even though they are sometimes powerful and feel like needs) and we try to see just how far we can go to carry our burdens and serve one another. Humanly speaking this is absolutely impossible. So how can we possibly do it? We can do it because Our Lord Jesus Christ first carried His cross for us. He has opened for us the way of the cross through His extreme humility and love for mankind.
St. Augustine says, “For, when I noticed that you were being slowed down in your divine purpose by your preoccupation with domestic cares, I felt that you were being carried and dragged along by your cross rather than that you were carrying it. What else does the cross mean than the mortality of this flesh? This is our very own cross which the Lord commands us to carry that we may be as well armed as possible in following him. We suffer momentarily until death is swallowed up in victory. [Isa 25:8; Hos 13:14; 1Co 15:54-55.] Then this cross itself will be crucified… There is no other way for you to follow the Lord except by carrying it, for how can you follow him if you are not his?”
My friends, this way was opened to us by the Lord to give us a way to life, by allowing us to follow Him and to enter into His life. What’s more, we are told that unless we follow this way, we don’t really belong to Him. So the clear and powerful sign of our life belonging to Jesus Christ is that we submit ourselves and our desires and our very lives to Christ on a daily basis. We learn through failing and repentance and renewed struggle, to offer everything back to Christ. We learn to say to Christ “My Lord and My God, I know that my life is a gift from you, that it belongs to you, help me to use this life to follow you, to glorify you and to be well-pleasing to you for you alone are my hope and my joy. I desire only you.”
St. Isaac the Syrian once said, “Behold, for years and generations, the way of God has been leveled by the cross and by death. How is this with you, that you see the afflictions of the way as if they were out of the way? Do you not wish to follow the steps of the saints? Or do you wish to go a way which is special for you, without suffering? the way to God is a daily cross. No one can ascend to heaven with comfort, we know where the way of comfort leads.”
Today we celebrate the veneration of the Cross in order to give us renewed hope and strength and inspiration to keep going through the discomfort of Lent and to keep going in our Christian struggles with zeal and courage and hope. “Through the cross is joy come into all the world.” The cross of the Lord brought humanity to the resurrection. And when you faithfully carry the crosses that you have been given, God will use them to bring joy to you and to your world and will ultimately lift you to the culmination of all joy, to share in Christ’s resurrection. May this alone be our hope and our inheritance. AMEN.