In today’s Gospel from Luke, Jesus tells his disciples that he will suffer and be rejected. That in itself would have been unhappy news to his friends. But then he adds the kicker: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his live will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes these words talking about Jesus’ prediction of his own suffering and rejection:
Jesus Christ must suffer and be rejected. It is the “must” of God’s own promise, so that scripture might be fulfilled. Suffering and rejection are not the same thing. Jesus could, after all, yet be the celebrated Christ in suffering. The entire sympathy and admiration of the world could, after all, yet be directed toward that suffering. Suffering, as tragic suffering, could yet bear within itself its own value, its own honor, its own dignity. Jesus, however is the Christ who is rejected in suffering. Rejection robs suffering of any dignity or honor. It is to be a suffering devoid of honor. … Death on the cross means to suffer and to die as someone rejected and expelled.
Suffering and rejection. This is what Christ must experience – a suffering devoid of honor. It is not surprising this is a difficult pill for the disciples to swallow.
Bonhoeffer also speaks of the final portion of the passage, reminding us that “[j]ust as Christ is Christ only in suffering and rejection, so also they are his disciples only in suffering and rejection, in being crucified along with Christ. Discipleship as commitment to the person of Jesus Christ places the disciple under the law of Christ, that is, under the cross.”
So we can enjoy being with Jesus at wedding feasts and dinners at the home of friends. We can share his joy in healing and in feeding those without food. We can wander merrily through grain fields, and take boat rides with Jesus. (And I have no doubt Jesus enjoyed time with his friends – and that they had times when they joked and laughed and maybe even had a little too much wine.) BUT if we would call ourselves disciples, we must also stay wedded to him in Jesus’ suffering and rejection, that is, be “disciples under the cross.”
Fr. Jan Michael Joncas (who some remember as the composer of On Eagle’s Wings) is Artist-in-Residence and Research Fellow in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. As part of St. Thomas’s Lenten Reflection Series, Fr. Joncas shared today a hymn text he wrote as a meditation on Jesus’ death. It is a great text for reflection on this this Good Friday.
The crowds who cried, “Hosanna,”
now clamor, “Crucify!”
Where once you rode in triumph
you stumble out to die.
O suffering Messiah,
O Lord of love and loss,
reveal to us the myst’ry
of your redeeming cross.
This instrument of torture,
this altar on a hill,
this artifact of evil
confounded by God’s will
provides the godforsaken
the sign of God’s embrace:
your outstretched arms, Christ Jesus,
a miracle of grace.
God’s equal, yet you never
clung to a form divine
but in our human likeness
lived out God’s great design.
Thus emptied, stripped, and humbled,
obedient unto death,
a slave upon a scaffold,
you drew your final breath.
For this you are exalted
and marked with great acclaim,
receiving highest honors:
the name above all names.
So at your name, Christ Jesus,
now ev’ry knee will bend,
with ev’ry tongue proclaiming
your Lordship without end.
Blessings as we continue our celebration of the Easter Triduum.
Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King. As I’ve said in the past, this is a relatively new feast day in the Church, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as a reaction against secularism and nationalism.
Leaving aside all the references to “king” and “kingdom” in the Bible – of which there are many – and all of the various descriptions of Christ as “king” in documents such as Quas Primas (which instituted the feast day), we are invited today to ask ourselves a simple question: Who rules my life?
I’m not a big fan of kingship imagery. Pictures of Jesus sitting on a big throne with a crown on his head and holding a scepter don’t do much for me.
But, I can, without any discomfort, ask myself: Who rules my life? To whom to I pledge my ultimate allegiance? To whom do I pledge my life?
The answer to that question (in whatever form it is asked) is clear: Jesus Christ.
For me, the celebration of Christ the King is an acknowledgement that – by my choice, and not by any physical or legal force – Christ rules my life. It is Christ to whom I pledge my life. It is Christ’s judgement of me counts in the final analysis – the one before whom I will have to stand and give an account of myself.
In truth, anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian ought to acknowledge that truth every day. But it is good to have a day on which we recommit ourselves as a community to the reality that it is Christ that rules our life.