Scripture for Sunday: Luke 9:23-24 (The Voice)
23 If any of you want to walk my path, you’re going to have to deny yourself. You’ll have to take up your cross every day and follow me. 24 If you try to avoid danger and risk, then you’ll lose everything. If you let go of your life and risk all for my sake, then your life will be rescued, healed, made whole and full.
Notes on the Text:
The verses above are part of a larger piece in which we read about a conversation Jesus had with his inner group of disciples about his identity, mission, and their call. They struggled with understanding his true mission. They wanted him to be the “Messiah;” a title that implied some military power and violent means to overthrow the Roman rule over their land. The Messiah would be the King and rule of Israel. Jesus challenged their perceptions and reminded them that his way was that of no violence but of love and suffering. Then he shifted the focus from his identity and mission to the disciples’ mission. In the same way, Jesus challenged the disciples to turn their perspective about success upside down. The values of the world were about security, power, and esteem, but Jesus’ path was about letting go, suffering, and taking risks for the sake of love. Jesus’ model for the transformation of the world did not depend on the typical tools of power and violence but on the vision of God of love. Jesus wanted to deal with the root causes of the problems. He wanted to transform the whole system!
Jesus challenged the disciples to a three-fold approach to life:
- Deny Themselves: This was an invitation to let go of the part of themselves that was attached to the values of the world about power, control, and esteem. It was about denying or letting go of their addiction to the things that could never satisfy their longing for God.
- Take Up Their Cross Daily: This was about renewing their commitment to the path of nonviolence and self-giving for the sake of love every day.
- Follow Jesus: This was about remembering to put Jesus and his example at the center of their lives.
To confess that they followed Jesus was to agree to these three things because of the paradoxical wisdom of his path. Trying to save our lives as we know them or as we have set them up with all of our focus on survival, security, power, possessions, and esteem, will only result in unhappiness.
The invitation and challenge of following Jesus is to deny the self, the ego, and its illusory attempts for control and happiness. Following the example of Jesus of letting go the ego and consenting to God’s will is about finding the secret to the abundant life.
Our ego will always trick us into believing that life is about striving for more: more esteem, more control, more power, more possessions, etc. We get stuck in the cycles of behavior that become so essential to our lives but which often lead us to never feel satisfied. As Rohr puts it, “Here is the incestuous cycle of the ego: ‘I want to have power’ ‘I will take control’ ‘I will always be right’ ‘See, I am indeed powerful!’ This is the vicious circle of the will to power. It does not create happy people, nor happy people around them.”
Much like the wisdom of AA about surrender, we have to surrender our will to God’s vision for life. This is about aligning our lives with the Source of Life. This journey of surrender begins in baptism where we commit to dying to the old self and rising into new life. This is in line with the third step in the Twelve Steps program which is: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God and as we understood God.” In A.A.’s Big Book, we find these challenging words of wisdom, “When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me. I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes. Shakespeare said, ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’ He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point it out, because I knew you wanted perfection, just as I did. A.A. and acceptance have taught me that there is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us; that we are all children of God and we each have a right to be here. When I complain about me or about you, I am complaining about God’s handiwork. I am saying that I know better than God.” Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book), 4th Edition, P. 417
This is hard for us because we tend to confuse acceptance with resignation. We feel that if we accept things as they are, we are just resigning ourselves to defeat without trying to make a difference in the world or make things better. We spend much of our energy fighting with ourselves, repressing parts of ourselves, denying our shadow stuff, and thus we end up projecting our own stuff onto others.
The invitation of Jesus to focus our energy and efforts on self-giving love is our path to finding wholeness. Yet, it is not easy to let go of the illusions of the ego. We know from reading the Gospels how the disciples themselves struggled with the teachings of Jesus. They faced many struggles with surrendering to God’s will:
- They struggled over power: “Later the close followers of Jesus began to argue over the stupid and vainquestion, “Which one of us is the greatest disciple?” 47 Jesus saw what was going on—not just the argument, but the deeper heart issues—so He found a child and had the child stand beside him. Jesus: 48 See this little one? Whoever welcomes a little child in My name welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me. The smallest one among you is therefore the greatest.” Luke 9:46-48
- They struggled with security: When Jesus was arrested, most of his disciples abandoned him. In fact, Peter flat out denied that he even knew Jesus.
- They struggled with grace: After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the disciples struggled with accepting new followers based on the rules of their religion.
The addictive nature of our ego pursuits of happiness often lures us into believing that we can find happiness on our own. After all one of the big illusions of life is that we are separate from God. What we need is to ground ourselves in those experiences that remind us daily of who we are as children of God.
Ponder the four paradoxes of AA in light of Jesus’ invitation to the disciples to let and to consent to the goodness of God’s love in and around us:
- We surrender to win.
- We give away to keep.
- We suffer to get well.
- We die to live.
Reflection by Joyce Rupp:
Dwell as near as possible
to the channel
in which your life flows.
~ Henry David Thoreau
Be at home with the deeper part of yourself. Slow your hurry in order to focus on what truly matters. Ask yourself each day what you need in order to keep near to this vital center. Inhabit the dimensions of your life in such a way that an abiding peace flows quietly in you.
as near as possible…
No need to be perfectionistic about the desire to be near what counts most to you. Set forth reasonable expectations. Be kind to yourself when you lose touch with this essential aspect. Give yourself to your central focus repeatedly. Take courage. Have hope. Trust what matters most.
to the channel…
Identify the current out of which your beliefs and values flow. What core intention moves your thoughts, feelings, actions? Is it to be a channel of the Holy One’s love? Perhaps it is a yearning to live the best of who you are? Only you know.
in which your life….
Your life. Not someone else’s. Pull back from comparisons and envies. Be patient and lovingly honest with how you maintain this most important center of your inner world. Acknowledge your desire to be faithful. Seek kinship and support to help you be true.
Notice what throws you off course or distracts you from being with what your heart deems worthy. Be willing to part ways with whatever keeps the deep waters of your soul from moving freely, lovingly, peacefully. Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.