2nd Sunday of Lent (March 1 • 2015)
‘Carrying Our Cross’
Genesis 17:1-8; 15-16
One of my favourites advertisements on television is the advertisement of the car company, Jeep. In the advertisement, a father takes his new Jeep back to his house, towing a dinghy. His young son is watching from the side of the driveway. “You bought a Jeep,” says the son. “Yep, I bought a Jeep,” says the father. Then the son takes a quick glance at the dinghy and replies, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” The advertisement ends with the new Jeep towing a bigger, much bigger boat.
I have to admit, I laughed every time I watched this advertisement. It’s a clever advertisement. It captures perfectly the spirit of our age through the mouth of the innocent child: if you buy a big car, then you have to buy a big boat as well; towing a small boat with a big car is not particularly attractive.
Indeed, friends, the advertisement taps into the deep desire within each one of us to attain prestige. It is not a surprise that the marketing catchword of the company is Don’t Hold Back, which can be interpreted as: don’t worry about what other people think about you buying a new, bigger car; don’t worry about other people lecturing you about the effect that a big car has on the environment, or the effect it has on your own wallet. Don’t hold back. Enjoy the fruit of your hard work. You deserve it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I disagree with everything this ad stands for, but I think it showcases the ‘ME-first’ world that we live in today. In this world, we are reminded, everyday, to buy this and that thing because if we don’t, we will be missing out on enjoying life. In this world, we are encouraged, again and again, to put ourselves first.
It is no surprise that Jesus’ words today, in the Gospel of Mark, sound rather strange: “Deny yourself, and you will have a life; put yourself last, and you will receive your reward; take up the cross and be ready to suffer like me, and I’ll show you what life is all about”.
Was he serious? Did he know what he was talking about? Like Peter, some of us may even want to rebuke Jesus for what he just said.
Indeed, for the disciples, and for those others who followed Jesus, the Messiah could not suffer or be killed. The Messiah was supposed to be their rescuer, their liberator from everything and everyone that had oppressed them. So how could Jesus be the Messiah if he said that he would suffer and die? Even worse, how could Jesus ask those who followed him to be ready to suffer as well? They had hoped that following Jesus would lead them to prestige and many victories in life, and not to the cross.
Indeed, Jesus’ words must have been as bewildering as God’s promise to Abram. Abram was 99 years old when he received the promise. If he lived in Australia today, he was only one year away from receiving a letter from the Queen. And Sarai, his wife, was similarly old (Genesis 18:11). Not only that, she was barren (Genesis 16:1-2). Yet God promised Abram and Sarai that they would be the parents of many descendants and nations.
But how could that be. They were both old. It was time for ‘retirement’, not for a new adventure with a new offspring.
Yet Abram surrendered himself when he came face to face with God’s promise. He prostrated himself as a gesture of submission to God’s will in his and Sarai’s life.
They were standing on the border of God’s promise, not knowing what lied ahead of them. Yet they trusted God to take them to a place where they had never imagined before.
Friends, just like Abram and Sarai, we too stand on the border of God’s promise. In this Lenten season, Jesus invites us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. These words may sound rather strange in today’s materialistic world and, just like Abram and Sarai, we too don’t know what lies ahead of us if we accept the invitation. Yet we can learn from Abram’s act of submission to God’s promise.
Friends, during this Lenten season, we will often hear invitations to deny ourselves. Self-denial in Lent means, for many people, denying ourselves of the normal pleasure in every day life: like chocolate, meat, or, nowadays, technological gadget. But self-denial in Christ means more than that. Self-denial in Christ means putting Jesus and His Kingdom first and ourselves last in every aspects of our life. We have to give up not only chocolate or meat or technological gadget, but whatever is necessary so that we can follow Christ in our life.
We are indeed to carry our cross. We are to be like Jesus who dared to deny his claim to prestige and chose the road of suffering to bring healing and wholeness to the world. I believe that was what Jesus meant when he said, “Those who lose their life because of me will save it.” Indeed, those who offer their lives for others will save and bring more lives to the world, even though they may lose their own lives.
I am reminded of the many medical workers, from all around the world, who have and are sill fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Some come from rich countries, like Australia, others come from poor countries, like the countries in West Africa being ravaged by the outbreak. Yet they all have one thing in common: they all dare to risk their lives to save others’. And many of them literally have lost their lives. Yet, they have saved thousands more lives. Ebola may never infect anyone here, but we are all indebted to these people for their example of what it means to deny oneself and take up one’s cross.
Friends, life is not all about us: it is about God and others as well. Life is not about being served, but about serving.
The more we attach ourselves to life, the way our materialistic world wants us to experience life, the more we are controlled by its desire and greed. But the more we surrender our life to Jesus' and to God’s will, the more we will find freedom to live a life that brings real life to others and to ourselves. Indeed, the more we surrender our life to Jesus and to God, the more meaningful life will become.