St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church (Norman, OK)
Zachariah 12, 10-11; 12,1 + Psalm 63 + Galatians 3,26-29 + Luke 9, 18-24
To know what you are looking for you have to know what you need.
The other day I walked into the parish office. I stopped just inside the door, and I stood there trying to remember why I was standing there. I could not remember what I was looking for. So I went back to my office, and the door was locked. My keys were inside. When I realized what I needed, I knew what to look for, keys!
In the Gospel today, Luke raises a question about what the disciples are looking for. From their answer it would appear they were not looking for what they needed. While they may have wanted a Messiah who would restore the past, the power, the influence, presteige, and the glory of Israel past; this was not what they needed. This was not who Jesus was and it was not the will of the Father who provides what we need, not what we want.
The Jewish people at the time were persecuted, powerless, humiliated, and defeated by the power of Roman and its occupying army. What they needed was the presence of God in the midst of their suffering: a presence that would sustain them, comfort and console them; a presence that would assure them that they were not abandoned or alone. Once they acknowledged and embraced their need, they would find what they were looking for.
Not until those apostles suffered the collapse of all their dreams and silly ambitions, not until one of them betrayed the master, not until they experienced doubt, fear, and hopelessness did they find what they were looking for. Hope! Hope is what they needed not some grand all powerful Messiah who would do what they were unwilling and unable to do on their own or sweep down and clear up the mess they were in. Hope is what they found in Jesus Christ. Hope is what they received by the power of the Spirit, and the gifts to complete what was needed to experience the reign of God.
Many in this world are still running all round looking without any sense of what they need. They think they need a better job. They think they need a bigger house. They think they need to look better, drive a better car, or have more friends. In the meantime, they live empty and painful lives hopeless and confused, doubtful and fearful.
Right in the middle of all that is our God who provides what is needed: no escape from trouble and worry, from pain, sickness, suffering, and lonliness. The message coming from Luke today is a message of hope for anyone who needs it. The message is the image of a broken, betrayed, crucified messiah who, rather than sweeping it all away, picks up all the suffering and says: “Let’s go. Pick up your cross and we’ll go forward together. Come after me.”
It is not possible to take up the cross if you do not put something else down. It is not possible to live in the Kingdom of God and the the puny Kingdoms of this earth at the same time. It is not possible find life until you find death. It is not possible to know Christ Jesus until you know and embrace all the suffering of his passion. When you do, then there is hope that does not disappoint. There is hope that lifts up those bowed down, and dries the tears of those who weep.
When he says: “Deny your self.” he means stop thinking all the time about what you want. Stop thinking that all creation revolves around the “Ego”, ME! Denail of self turns one toward the common good, the good of all. Self denial is a denial of self interest, of self-serving ideas, schemes, and idiologies that alway assume that what is good for me is good for you. No it isn’t. Before we keep on insisting that it is, we might do well to begin to examine the consequences of having our own way and pretending that it is the right way and the only way.
When Jesus looked around, he saw a need for hope. By denying himself, by taking up his cross (which was not in his self interest) he entered finally and completly into the helplessness of the human condition. In that obedient surrender, he gave us life by loosing it. He gave us his place as a child of God, and best of all he gave us hope.