“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?’” (Mt 16: 24-26)
This was dramatized in the first reading, which portrayed the suffering endured by the prophet, Jeremiah, who boldly cried out to God: “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; You were too strong for me, and You triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.” (Jer 20:7)
Jeremiah found himself rejected, mocked, and attacked constantly, because the people did not like his prophecies of doom – for prophesying to Judah and Jerusalem, a stern message of condemnation for idolatry and disobedience. He refused to prophesy any longer for the cost of suffering was too high for him, but deep within his heart, he knew that the cost of disobedience was even higher. He, inwardly, suffered more from not prophesying than for doing so. If one must suffer, it is better to suffer for obedience than for disobedience. This is the lesson that Jesus teaches with His life: “suffering is not the goal, but the cost of discipleship”.
In Romans 12:2, the apostle, Paul, directs us: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
How are we to accomplish this? It is by offering our bodies, as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, using Jesus’ standards, which demand greater effort and deeper commitment than norms suggested by our human nature or worldly wisdom. Rationalizations or excuses like “I am not qualified for the task ahead”, or “I am not ready”, or “I am very busy with my work”, or “I don’t have time”, or other easy ways out and compromises have lined the pavements of complacency and indifference. It takes serious commitment, serious discipleship to square with the discipline of living up to the patterns of Jesus’ example.
As His followers, we are expected to be cast into difficult, painful, and trying situations. It is not when our circumstances are most comfortable that we are transformed, but when we are tested by fire that we believe in the Lord and therefore, our walk with Him truly becomes walking in His footsteps. It is not merely hearing His word, serving with little inconveniences, speaking loving and kind words when required, but sincerely giving up a self-centered life.
Indeed, the only way to discipleship is to respond to God’s call, “Follow me” and to empty ourselves until we are nothing, until it hurts. It is to follow the footsteps of Christ, to be men for others, to be Christ to others. It is to deny ourselves of our desire to cut the cross to make it lighter. If we are true followers of Jesus, we must be content to fellowship with Him in His suffering, so that we may rejoice and be counted worthy to suffer dishonor for His Holy Name. The Lord did not say that we will accomplish this in this lifetime, but putting ourselves in the lifestyle will enable Him to work in us and for us to claim His promise: “For the Son of Man will come with His glory, and then, He will repay all according to his conduct.” (Mt 16:27)