25 November 2010

Matthew 16:21-28

"Then Jesus told his disciples, '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 will find it.'" (vv. 24-25)


What does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus? There are probably as many answers as there are followers of Jesus.

Some people believe that they are taking up their cross when they silently accept whatever misfortune life brings them. Others believe that it means choosing the most difficult path in life. One school of Christian thought even recommends 'mortification of the flesh' as a way to participate in the suffering of Jesus.

But taking up one's cross isn't actually about suffering. Taking up one's cross is about dying and Jesus says that his followers will have to choose death in order to experience life. Furthermore, he teaches that those who try to save their lives will end up losing it.

It's easy to see why Peter was scandalised. What if Jesus really did mean that his followers have to die in order to live? Considering Jesus' torturous death on the cross and Resurrection it's not so far-fetched to think he meant it.

And what does dying in order to live have to do with Jesus being King of Kings? What does it have to do with the kingdom? Jesus gives no direct answers here but there are many clues in his life and teaching.

The American playwright Eugene O'Neill wrote a thought-provoking play Lazarus Laughed. In it, the testimony of the resurrected Lazarus removes all fear of death from the inhabitants of his hometown, Bethany. As word spreads that the people of Bethany are no longer afraid to die, Rome sends soldiers to kill them all. Because it is only the fear of death that allows the conqueror to control the conquered.

To Ponder

Think of an experience from your life where you understood the wisdom of Jesus' statement "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it". What happened?

Many philosophers and theologians talk about 'the meaning of life': do you think that there is such a thing as 'the meaning of death'? What is it?

If you have lost your fear of death, how did this experience change your life? Or how do you think your life would change if you were not afraid of dying?

Bible notes author

The Revd Pam Garrud

Pam is an ordained minister in the Methodist Church in Britain. In August 2009, Pam and her London-born husband Trevor moved to Pam's native United States for family reasons.