Friday, October 19, 2018
Dying to Self: Its Purpose and Meaning (Mark 8:34-36) by Rev. Dr. Steve Locke
I’m always amazed that Jesus pressures his audience and his disciples to accept some new level of direction for living. He never lets you rest in some banal or cozy concept of life, he pushes forward to a greater capacity to see life in some exciting way, in God’s way. For instance, life is not just finding happiness; it is finding a way through the hang-ups and spiritually oppressive dimensions of life to find freedom. He is never complicated, but always simple. He doesn’t make you jump through mental puzzles but presents this new life simply. He says, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” It is up to us to figure out what he means by “self” and “deny” however. All we have to do is reflect on what it is we desire instead of God. Once we can imagine it and come to grips with it then we are in a position to contemplate our real selves. We can reach beyond our immediate concerns that trip us up. We can let go of the dreams that link us to dissatisfaction and failure, not to God.
To deny ourselves is not to hate ourselves but to love ourselves in God and our purpose. We are not to think that we need to get rid of all our worldly possessions and live without pleasure. We are to think about what it means to be a true self in the world. This can only be understood through the life of contemplation. We will miss Jesus’ call if we stay too long listening to the enticements that turn us to the satisfactions of life and not the hope of life. Contemplation breaks the dark spell of the spin of affirmation and admiration we seek in order to make us happy.
So much pain and suffering goes down the road of acquiring and seeking admiration. We are constantly disappointed in that adventure. I can’t help but think of the movie Citizen Kane in light of Jesus’ call to follow him. Here was a man with everything given to him. Somewhere in his life he wanted to do the right thing, he wanted to help humanity. But his inward life was so damaged by his childhood that he could not find a way for the emptiness of his to be filled by something other than power. His whole life was driven by this desire to be admired but it could never fill him up. He was constantly dissatisfied. At the end of his life all he wanted, amidst all his money and fame, was his childhood. The mysterious last words of his life reveal what he really wanted, but couldn’t get out of his way to get---his childhood. Of course his last words were---Rosebud. This was the name of his small sleigh that he used to ride in his happy moments of childhood. He couldn’t get off the road to fame; collecting things or his desire for admiration long enough to reflect on what it is that is important. We all have a bit of Citizen Kane in us, which is why Jesus says so clearly, “Take up your cross, deny yourself and follow me.”
It would be a mistake to think that only a few people can achieve what Jesus requests. That it is only for the courageous and well disciplined that enter monasteries without the distractions of modern life. We would do a disservice to the hope of Jesus if we do. Jesus believed that anyone can turn their life around, deny themselves so they can follow Jesus with clarity and integrity. We can’t let ourselves off the hook by saying that Jesus only meant this for a few. He meant it for the economically challenged and the ones who have all they need. He meant it for the emotionally damaged and those who have more stable emotional life. There is no excuse for not pursuing his admonition to “Take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow him.” Saint Francis was not an extraordinary man in this regard; he was instead a humble man who followed the vision of Christ simply and beautifully. His story can become ours as well.
To deny ourselves can be understood as we look at the way Jesus lived his life. He lived his life according to the purpose he was called. In order to achieve his purpose he had to think outside the box of what it means to live in his beloved community and under the direction of God. To achieve his purpose he needed put aside the need to fulfill all the desires inside him. He needed to put aside seeking admiration of his fellow community, build his wealth and to think of his self before others. To do this he needed to discoverer his true self and his real purpose in life. Then he directed his life toward that purpose. This is our task as well. To deny ourselves is not to limit our pleasure, but to increase our pleasure in God.