This Sunday, the Church enters Passiontide. This is the second part of Lent that serves to increase the devotion of the People of God as they prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
The intensity of Passiontide is seen in today’s Gospel reading. The Lord Jesus holds back no punches. He presents the demands of being his disciple: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life… Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”
The summons itself is clear, but the context gives even more depth. The Lord presents the expectation of his disciples within a teaching on the grain of wheat. He says: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.”
Those who wish to follow the way of the Lord Jesus must be willing to die to themselves, to their sinfulness, their fallenness, their preferences and desires. The Lord wants true “disciples,” namely, men and women who will love, trust, and authentically follow him.
Saint Paul echoes the Lord’s exhortation, and writes in his Letter to the Romans: I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. 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.”
In the contemporary world, especially in the West, the call of discipleship has been compromised and made into almost mere poetics, as seen in such passing comments, “Yes, yes, Jesus said that, but he really didn’t mean it. It has to be read spiritually.”
While such an exegetical approach is accurate in some parts of the Gospel, it is misplaced within the context of the Lord’s expectation of discipleship. As hard as it is to hear, the Lord Jesus truly wants us to die to ourselves and to follow him. There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s. It is an unconditional surrender. A total act of oblation. It is placing the Lord Jesus and his Gospel first in our lives. It is allowing ourselves to become a holocaust before the living God. This is what is means to be a disciple.
Once discipleship is fully realized, we can understand why so few accepted the Lord’s call in his day. They got it. They heard what he was saying and knew that he meant it. He called then, as he calls now, to worship, to pray, to forgive our enemies, to walk the extra mile in selfless service, to be patient and kind, to observe chastity of body and mind, to remain faithful to promises, to serve the sick and forgotten, and the list goes on.
In summary, the Lord wants us to lay down our lives. He wants a complete donation of ourselves to him and his mission.
The Lord modeled this way of life. The Letter to the Hebrews explains that the Lord “offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” and that he “learned obedience from what he suffered.”
True to form, the Lord calls his disciples to follow him on the way of the Cross, the way of love, the way of glory.
Pope Francis also echoes the Lord’s call: “Jesus tells us that in order to follow him, to be his disciples, one must deny oneself – that is, the claims of one’s own selfish pride – and take up one’s very cross… Then he gives everyone a fundamental rule. And what is this rule? ‘Whoever wants to save his life will lose it.’”
As we near the end of Lent and prepare for the Lord’s Pasch, we are again invited by Passiontide to examine our discipleship. Where do we stand? What have we done well? What can we do better?
We can also evaluate our hearts. Is my heart consecrated to the Lord and his saving mission? Am I willing to die to myself for love of him? Have I compromised my love for him?
With such transparency before the Lord, we are strengthened to live as his disciples and make the journey of Passiontide, prepared to walk and suffer, love and persevere with the Lord Jesus as he begins his Pasch for our salvation.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby