Our sheer reliance on God
The Gospel today:
‘Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of Mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow Me. Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for My sake will find it. What, then, will anyone gain by winning the whole world and forfeiting his life? Or what can anyone offer in exchange for his life? ‘For the Son of man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each one according to his behavior.’ (Matt 16:24–27)
Jesus spoke of how anyone who wishes to follow him, will need to renounce himself. The word ‘renounce’ in Greek is ἀπαρνησάσθω, which means ‘let him deny’ tells us of how as followers of Jesus, we need to let go of our fears and ambitions, and deny our selfish dreams in order to place God in the centre of our life. In doing so, we are able to discern what God’s will is, and in doing so, we continue to delve deeper into who we really are, in pursuing our purpose in life.
Jesus then asked ‘What, then, will anyone gain by winning the whole world and forfeiting in life?’. This line when translated to Greek, spoke explicitly of how one would lose his soul, if he persist in pursuing worldly desires and not put God in the centre of his life. For any profit that he gains at the expense of destroying his conscience, is meaningless at the end of the day. In being aware of this now, it is even more pertinent for us to be able to recognise if the deed committed by us is indeed something that is coming from God’s desire. In doing God’s work, we give glory to Him, and ‘He will reward’ us in accordance to our deeds.
Yet, sometimes, as human beings, we are inherently weak, and we do not see and understand God’s purpose for us, as how Peter reacts when Jesus told him of his eventual sufferings and death. We see Peter reprimanding Jesus, not accepting what is eventually going to be happen in the earlier part of the Gospel. In Luke 5: 1–11, when Jesus instructed Peter how to cast his net to fish, the latter told Jesus to Ἔξελθε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ, ὅτι ἀνὴρ ἁμαρτωλός εἰμι, Κύριε (Depart from me for a man sinful I am Lord). Peter knew that he is sinful, and weak, and at that point, he wanted Jesus to be away from him as he realised how unworthy he was of the abundance that Jesus would bring if he followed Jesus.
Yet, it is precisely during this moments, when we are ‘seduced’ by the Lord (Jeremiah 20:7) to follow Him because we recognise our inherent weakness. As seen in the Gospel, Jesus called Peter σκάνδαλον (a stumbling block) in response to Peter’s fears for his life, but in the very next line, he promised Peter that if he was able to ‘take up his cross’ and ‘follow him’, Peter would be doing God’s glory and he would be awarded for his deeds. The same passage in Luke 5:1–11 too, Jesus used the example of the abundance of the catch to assuage Peter’s fears to persuade him to follow the Lord.
In both instances, we see how Peter needed to hear Jesus’ words, in order to be able to discern God’s will and pick up courage to ‘take up the cross’. In Peter, we see him as a reflection of ourselves as well. Quiet personal time with Him is important for us to not only lay our fears and worries with the Lord. The time that we spend with Him is also a time for us to rest upon His feet, just like the return of the prodigal son to his father, as He welcomes us back with love and helps us to understand our purpose in life. It is at our weakest moment, that we are ‘seduced’ to by God’s love and mercy, for us to be recharged and to do God’s work to spread the good news.
As we rest in His love, we also realise that our sufferings in taking up our crosses, also need not be borne by us alone, as the Lord will send us help to enable us to bear the heavy weight of our cross. Just like how Veronica and Simon helped Jesus lighten the weight of the cross in their own ways and how Peter had the assistance of the rest of the Apostles to spread the good news, in seeking God’s love, we display our humility and awareness of our own weaknesses to Him, and we tell Him that it is God, and God alone, who will be with us, and help us along our journey in carrying our own cross.