In my earlier reflections (September 9: carry a cross? part 1 – what it might have meant “back in the day” and carry a cross? part 2 – what it might mean today) I shared first what I believe Jesus meant, and then what the cross might mean today.
In this third and final reflection on Mark 8.27-38 – as hard as I think and feel Jesus’ word about cross-bearing self-denial is to hear and accept (Truth be told, do most of us really want to do that most of the time? Mmmm, probably not!) – I ponder what I consider to be Jesus’ most puzzling teaching, verily, his justification, his discernible proof not only of the essentiality, but the inescapability of self-sacrifice: “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.”
I don’t think Jesus is saying we cannot avoid a selfless life. Last time I checked human nature, mine and that of others, self-interest and, at times, selfishness reside in the very hearts of all of us. We, by virtue of being alive, have, are carbon footprints of undeniably self-focused want and need. So, no, I don’t believe Jesus means to imply that we can’t choose not to live self-sacrificially.
Nor do I think Jesus is offering us an insightful observation or a helpful recommendation: “You know, people, it’d be a good idea if you followed my model of self-sacrifice. Life is nicer and the world is a better place when we, at least, every once in a while, think of others first before ourselves. So, please, give it a try.”
Rather, Jesus is pointing to something greater, truer. Jesus, I think, is saying something about demonstrable, factual existential reality – the way things are, the way things work, the way life and living are designed, verily, the way God creates.
To wit, when I try to save my life (spending most of my attention, effort, energy, focus, and interest on me, my wants and needs, my intentions and actions), I lose my life, becoming, being consumed with fear of scarcity, worry about “tomorrow” (rather than living, being present in “today”), and anxious about whether I’ll get from life, from you what I believe I deserve. When I lose my life for Jesus’ sake, following him in his way of being, and for the sake of his gospel, being love and doing justice with all I encounter, I save my life, becoming, being filled with a resonant sense, a resident spirit of connection with life and the world, with God and you.
“Hey, people,” says Jesus, “just do it! Choose to lose your life and you’ll find it, and, thus, become, be who you already are.”