Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Deut 30:15-20; Luke 9:22-25
The Conditions of Discipleship
A man got lost in the desert. Walking and walking, he was so desperate to slack his thirst with a drink of water, then, he found a shack and entered to look for water. There was no water except an old, rusty water pump. He run to it and pumped it. No water came out. He staggered back, weak, discouraged. He squatted on the floor. He found a jug beside him. He took it and brushed the dust off the outside markings. “You have to pour the water from this jug to make the pump work. P.S. Be sure to refill the jug with water for the next use,” it said. Thoughts were racing: “Should I pour all the water? If so, what if the pump won’t work? Or should I just drink the water? If so, what about the next user? If I poured all the water, I could lose everything. It could yield fresh, cold water as well. If I just drink all the water, there won’t be any water to pump out water from the well.” He thought for awhile and then poured all the water. At first, no water came out. “Squeak, squeak, squeak,” sounded the pump until finally water gushed forth. He had enough water for himself and for the next user. He took the jug and added the following words: “Believe me, it really works. You have to give everything away before you can have a refill of good water.”
Today’s gospel, Jesus sets before us a triple recipe of how to be His disciples: deny self, take up the cross daily and follow Him. He says: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
The first recipe is self-denial. Jesus Christ demands self-denial as a necessary condition of discipleship. Self-denial is a summons to submit to the authority of God as Father and of Jesus as Lord and to declare lifelong war on one’s instinctive egoism. This does not mean that Jesus wants us to become zombies or He asks us to volunteer for a robot role. The required denial is of carnal self, the egocentric, self-deifying urge with which we are born and which dominates us so ruinously in our natural state.
The second recipe is, take up the cross daily. Jesus links self-denial with cross-bearing. We cannot avoid our cross. It is always with us that is why we carry it daily. We don’t need to go to other place and search our cross. It is right here beside us always. Our cross can be: rejections, pains, staying faithful in a difficult marriage, loving your black sheep children, forgiving a relative’s past hurts, speaking well of others, raising people up instead of putting them down, being misunderstood and when prayer dries up. But carrying cross is far more than enduring this or that hardship. Carrying one’s cross, in Jesus’ day, is required of those whom society had condemned. The cross they carried was the instrument of death. The cross is a death to one’s sins, unfaithfulness and selfishness.
The third recipe is, follow Him. Jesus represents discipleship as a matter of following Him and following Him is based on taking up one’s cross and self-denial. Carnal self would never consent to cast us in such a role. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right in saying: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die…. Accepting death to everything that carnal self wants to possess is what Christ’s summons to self-denial was all about.”
Jesus calls us not only to self-denial and carrying one’s cross but the freedom to detach ourselves from gaining the riches of the world. True disciples are the ones who know, love and follow only one Lord, Jesus Himself.