In today’s Gospel (Mark 8: 34-38) we hear the words of Christ echo down through the ages to us, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” It is easy for us to hear these words and cringe: “Deny himself!!”, “Take up his cross!!” “Follow Jesus??” To where? The cross? These words have traditionally sent shivers down our collective spines. We are used to pampering ourselves, getting whatever we want, whenever we want it. To purposely set out on a path to deny ourselves is almost alien to our nature. It is not ALMOST, it IS. (Altruism seems to be more of a divine quality, than a human one.)

And what about taking up our cross? Christ is saying not only play the hand that has been dealt to you, but for you to take comfort in it. This is too much!!! Who in their right mind would seek out some of the hardships we put up with? And…. accept it? I don’t think so.

But wait! Let’s take a closer look at what Christ is saying. We portray the words “deny himself” in a kind of Lenten-type denial, an abandoning of the pleasures and joys to which we have grown accustomed. But there is another possible meaning of these words. Blend that concept of denial of oneself, with the concept of allowing Christ to work in and through us. It is still a denial of ourselves, but the emphasis is not on what is being given up. The emphasis is rather on what we are seeking to become … a vessel to be used by Christ. In trying to be that person who wants Christ to work through us, is seeking to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus. When put in this light, the denial of ourselves fades into insignificance. Weigh on the one hand the pleasure or joy that we fear giving up, against the willingness to become an instrument of Christ’s love and peace for our little piece of the world.

Blend all of these thoughts together: Loving everyone (regardless of their cleanliness, of their ability to irritate you, regardless of their power, their color, their intelligence, their national origin), loving and treating them with true concern and affection. This is no small task. It cries out to being something other than human. It humbly asks Jesus to take us with all of our faults and problems and transform us into being a vessel of Christ. Asking Him is the easy part. Trying to do the “Loving everyone” part is the challenge of Christianity. But without the love, without the concern for people we won’t make the attempt to draw close to people. And without our coming in contact with our fellow man, Christ cannot act through us.

Jesus is no fool. He asked His disciples and He asks mankind down through the ages, to deny themselves and follow Him, to follow Him so closely so as to be Him. This is the challenge of Christianity. It has always been there, for all the ages to hear. Trust Jesus so much that every moment of every day we place our lives in His hands. Not my will, but Thine be done! This is the denial He seeks, a trust in Him, so profound, so complete that our very lives are handed over to be extensions of His will. This is a lifetime’s journey, but one that we must ask Jesus to help us start.