Saturday, September 12, 2015

Bearing the Cross is love

Readings: Isa 50:5-9a; Ps 116:1-6.8-9; Jas 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

The readings for this week should be read over and over until your heart absorbs them. In our Gospel for this week Jesus teaches His disciples the central paradox of our Christian faith: "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:35).

Works born of faith amount to selfless service of others. The Cross reveals to us the way we should live. Christ's resurrection, of which He gives the disciples only the briefest hint in today's Gospel, shows us what it means to be saved. Of course, all will be resurrected. Our Lord Himself said, "Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28-29).

The common objection to this line of reasoning usually consists in drawing the conclusion that Christianity, at its core, is selfish. This selfishness bids the believer to be good, not for goodness sake, but to receive a reward. I suppose in some instances this objection may be spot-on. But I contend that wanting to live forever is not selfish. It is our deepest longing. This longing is present in everyone, whether or not s/he is a Christian.

Living forever is the very purpose for which God made us and for which He redeemed us. Therefore, this desire is the spark of the divine image within every person and so our longing, at its deepest level, is love of God. It is the only thing that makes it possible for us to respond to God, which is why, in the end, it is all grace. It is this love that also constitutes our just love of self. It has been noted that to truly love another is to love his/her destiny. This principle is very important today with everything happening in our society.

All of this helps us to grasp Jesus' exhortation in today's Gospel as well as His summary of the law, a few chapters on in St Mark's Gospel: the two great commandments- "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31). We were made from love in order to love. Hence, only those who truly love, who become selfless, will be saved. It is not too much to say that becoming selfless is salvation. Selflessness is certainly liberating.

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, in his play No Exit, which is about the afterlife, famously wrote, "Hell is other people." In the context of the play Sartre was referring to what he called "the Look," by which he meant something like the lifelong struggle of worrying about how other people see us. Indeed, this can be hell, which is why people who aren't hung up worrying about this are happier than those who do. Because in the end it is all about love, you need not fear how others will see you because they will love you as they love themselves and you will love them as you love yourself. It seems to me that the cause of our deepest insecurity is worrying that if people knew us we knew ourselves, they wouldn't like us and may even loathe us. Just as we want to be known and loved we must recognize that this what other people want too. But this is where the Cross comes in, where things like not just forgiving, but loving your enemies comes into play.

The words of Isaiah's Suffering Servant are really the culmination God's word for us today: "The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; Therefore I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He who declares my innocence is near. Who will oppose me?" (Isa 50:7-8a).

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