Sun, 20 September 2020
Sunday after the Exaltation of the Cross Galatians 2:16-20; Mark 8:34-9:1
(The Greatest Commandment) life has no meaning without a goal. Goals allow us to distinguish between what is useful and what isn’t; the right goal ensures that all our actions are virtuous.
This week restates this lesson. Listen closely:
And Jesus called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mark 8: 34)
Do you see how this is just a restatement of the goal of “loving God and neighbor”?
The “self” that we must deny has to be properly understood or we will end up perverting the Scripture, pursuing the wrong goal, wasting our talent, and – as we are warned in today’s Gospel reading – losing our very soul/life. There are two main ways that the “denial of self” should be understood:
So why the big warning? Because today’s reading, like last week’s, comes with a big warning:
For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8: 35)
The bottom line is that you will waste and ruin your life if you pursue the wrong goals. Idolatry? Two masters? Temple? It’s all saying the same thing. Don’t waste your life. Live a life of virtue. Commit yourself to it, study how to do it well, and then work hard an sacrifice yourself for it. Parts of you will rebel – deny those parts. Other parts will enjoy it; this is the multiplication of your talents – take that joy and offer to God and share it with your neighbor … this is how you grow “into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).
One of the ways that today’s reading can be misunderstood is to think that the “denial of self” means the denial of joy. Now I hope you see how ridiculous this is. Do not turn God into a monster: he is not trying to turn this world into a hell of misery but into a place where all his children have joyful life in abundance (John 10:10) – and He wants us to want and work for that, too.
The denial of self does NOT mean that we hate or neglect or selves; quite the opposite. This is made clear by the final verse we will cover in today’s homily;
For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul (life)? (Mark 8:36)
Love of self means doing what is good for the self; pursuit of the wrong goals brings destruction to our lives. That is not love, that is something else. You know people who have destroyed their lives through the pursuit of power, or of laziness and self-indulgence, or of the approval of the wrong people, or through drugs … this is what Jesus means when He warns that you can gain the world but lose your soul. People who have lived for the wrong goal may well “gain the whole world”, but all that effort has been counter-productive; it has not brought abounding joy, it has not brought joy to others.
So now that you understand this command of Our Lord, the challenge is to make it your primary motivation:
Deny yourself. Give up your life and live it for the Good News of salvation that is guaranteed to bring joy to you and to this world.