Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
This portion of the Gospel for today is what is called a “hard saying.” There are three others sayings like this elsewhere in Matthew but we’ll leave them aside for now. It’s a temptation to think that, “Jesus would never say anything like that!”, but a lot of Biblical scholars think that, simply because they are such brutal sayings, they are undoubtedly from the lips of Jesus. Who else would want to add that line in? It’s not real attractive, like, “Fear not… you are of more value than many sparrows” You can imagine some early friend of Jesus adding that line on to a late night prayer-time with their needy child. But, “Take up your cross!” doesn’t do it as well!
So, easy as 1, 2, 3; Jesus tells us to love God more than we love our parents and to love God more than we love our children, and to take up our walk with Jesus no matter what cross road we find ourselves on. For “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me and those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Since it’s such a hard saying. I’d like to do a little detour and head to another, somewhat easier scene from scripture that still might move us to understand where Jesus is calling us to walk; and that’s the Transfiguration account as it is found in Chapter 17 of Matthew. It’s also in Mark and Luke as well as the second letter of Peter.
You already know the story: Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain by themselves. There He’s transfigured before them: His face shines, His clothes become white, and before you know it He’s talking with Moses and Elijah. A great scene! And good old — not yet Saint — Peter (and you know Peter in most of the Gospels: “Open mouth, insert foot”)… Peter says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah,” and suddenly a cloud envelopes them, and a voice says, “This is My Son… Listen to Him!” and they see Jesus only.
Moses, Elijah and Jesus, who tells them to follow Him, to take up their cross: 1, 2, and 3 one more time. And maybe this is what it all means…
If Abraham is the grandfather, then Moses is the parent of Israel: he carries the law, he holds the history, he sets the standards; much like any parent. And when Jesus comes he tells the Israelites (and us too) that holding on too tight to their traditions, taking some parental injunctions too seriously, can keep them (and us ) from seeing what God is doing in the present moment.
A few months ago I heard someone I respect greatly say of a man that we’ve both known for a few years: “He’ll be OK when he gets outside his father’s shadow!” That’s a hard saying too, but I bet we all know people who are caught in such parental expectations that can hobble or kill a call to follow God, to live life, in the present moment. There comes a point when you know that you have to love God more than parents if you want to follow God.
And then there's Elijah, head of the Prophets; standing for those who speak for right relationship, for justice, reform, expectation, for the hope of Israel. And maybe he stands for what we want, what we try to offer our children, those we mentor, those we raise up or care for. The prophets give their all for the children of Israel; but then so do righteous parents, tyrannical bosses, believing terrorists too; I’ve heard parents say, “ I was willing to give them every-thing,” and maybe one response to that is, “What they want is simply room, perhaps to get it wrong, but then to make it right, in their own way, in their own time!”
Even Jesus would have held the people of Jerusalem, to gather them together, “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings," and they were not willing, and maybe he knew that was right too. Even to give your children, to give your greatest hope up to God, is to allow and open the grace for growth beyond these limited visions.
Still, it is so understandable, on the one hand, that Peter wants to build a structure to keep history and hope enshrined safely at the top of the mountain; but Jesus knows there is another road to follow, another mountain that must be met before father or mother, son or daughter, maybe before anyone, can really make it home;
So a voice says, “This is my Son, listen to him” and Jesus says, “Take up your cross.” For “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me and those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it,” and we’re back to the beginning: a hard saying waiting to be answered. How do we look upon this, live with it, get through it? It might not be as easy as 1, 2, 3, but I believe it is always within our reach by God’s grace, and it has to do with focusing on the facets of the cross.
For there are three crosses in the history and the heart of the church and together they point to the three dimensional reality where God meets us here and now and always. First, we see the crucifix where “Christ has died,” and that encourages us in the life-giving faith that God joins us, along with all the other friends of Jesus, in the very centre of human being; that can give us the faith that we will never be alone on this unfinished road. Then the second cross we can look for with great hope is the empty one that dawns on Easter, with the mystery that, “Christ is Risen from the dead,” and the hope-filled promise that comes with God sharing this new and larger life with us. And finally there is the Christus Rex, where this self-giving, all-loving Jesus reigns as the victorious King of all creation, the culmination of all things, when “Christ will come again:” where faith finds us, hope follows, love wins and Jesus makes all things forever new. Maybe, after all that, it is just 1, 2, and 3.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.