Scripture: Then Jesus told his disciples “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” ~Matthew 16:24-25
Theological Thought: Crucifixion was part punishment, part death sentence, and part deterrent. As such it was specifically designed to inflict as much pain over as long a period as possible with as many witnesses as possible. It was in fact so gruesome that even some Romans objected to the practice. Cicero is famously quoted as describing crucifixion as “a most cruel and disgusting punishment…the very mention of the cross should be far removed not only from a Roman citizen’s body, but form his mind his eyes, his ears.” For those in the ancient near east who opposed Rome however, the cross also represents ultimate failure: one who stood as a symbol against the empire becomes a tool to dissuade others from doing the same.
Reflection: Every time I think I have reached a point where I can say “I really AM a new creation in Christ” – every time I reach a point where I understand the reality of what it is to be that new creation, the pre-Jesus me stands up and says “I’m back” using that creepy POLTERGEIST voice. Now I know I am a new creation, I know that I am not a slave to sin but a slave to righteousness and I know that Sin has no power over me. But it’s still there. Even as the new me grows and flourishes, even as I pour into that, being an imperfect person in an imperfect world means that weeds and other nasties will show up to try and choke out new life. But taking care of the issue is not as simple as pulling up weeds. I can’t just go through a couple of inner healing sessions and think I’m free of weeds when I pop out the other side. (Point of clarification: Inner healing is good, it offers us a lot including a way to deal with stuff that we may not be aware of but it is not a silver bullet that will auto-magically take care of all our problems) Christ tells us that we must deny our impulses DAILY. Paul echoes it when he said that he DIED daily. My personal sins (which are many, varied, and diverse) probably don’t stem from the same root cause, but they a lot of them share it and that’s selfishness. That Selfishness might miraculously disappear, but more likely I will have to deal with it one day at a time and I will have to die to it every single day. I must realize that everything I do, I do for myself, and that it is something that has been true my whole life. It is not who I am, but it something that is deeply embedded in me and dictates my behavior. So every time I see it, I must see it for what it is and I MUST deny myself. And in case you were wondering, it is hard. It is really hard. Denying myself those things hurts enough that it really is like dying.
Prayer: Lord, Grant us the grace to see our cross for what it is. Grant us the grace to see our flesh and our sins for what they are. Grant us the grace to take up our cross and deny ourselves today and tomorrow.
Practice: Fasting is an “easy” way to deny oneself. What Fasting really brings out however, is all the other things we can use to depend on. It really is easy to fast, if we replace mealtime with facebook, google news feed, or Sports Center. I have found myself that while fasting from food, I find those things in my life that I really, truly must learn to die to.