Scripture:Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
Reflection:A spirituality of mission that does not examine the cost of discipleship has deceived itself. Following Jesus costs disciples themselves. Therefore, the first thing potential followers must do is know themselves so they know exactly what they are going to deny. The Markan Jesus makes denying self a prerequisite of discipleship. The author of Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus stating the same thing, as does the author of Luke’s gospel. Until a person can know and deny the self, he or she cannot keep it out of the way of discipleship. Denying self is the ability to set aside one’s own wishes, needs, interests, or desires of another.
The epitome of denying self is the cross. That is why the Markan Jesus tells his potential followers that after they deny themselves they take up the cross. Then, no matter what comes their way, they are able to continue through life. For the intended readers of Mark’s gospel, persecution was coming their way in terms of ostracism, economics, and even death. The author is telling his readers to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, who gave his life for the gospel with the cross, but had it saved by being raised from the dead.
One cost of the discipleship that must be factored into a spirituality of mission is that of denial of self. Most people are raised in a culture of immediate gratification. If one wants a new pair of shoes, he or she goes to the department store and buys them. If one wants pizza for dinner, he or she can call for immediate delivery, go to the pizza restaurant, or pick up one at the grocery store and enjoy it within the hour. Small children learn quickly that their every desire will be met if they cry, scream, or throw a tantrum. There is no waiting in a non-self-denying culture. And yet Jesus makes it clear that the denial of self is a prerequisite to lay claim to being one of his followers.
Journal/Meditation:In the past twenty-four hours, how have you practiced denial of self? What cross did you take up to follow Jesus?
Prayer:Father of Jesus, your only-begotten Son taught his followers to deny themselves and take up their cross in order to follow him. Give me the strength to practice self-denial so that I may learn how to carry the cross as a disciple of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you forever and ever. Amen.