'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine….' To me this is one of the most crucial statements in the whole of the Gospels. It forces me to ask myself how much it means to me to be a follower of Jesus. Am I prepared to give what it takes? We have read of Jesus asking his disciples, 'You, who do you say I am?' Peter's replied, 'You are the Christ!' with the title 'Christ' being loaded with all the understandings and expectations of a people that had being nourished on the Prophetic Word of God.
Jesus then told his disciples that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously and even to be put to death. Not for a moment did Peter think that Jesus was playing with words. He started to rebuke Jesus. Far from telling Peter to calm down and not be so literal, Jesus rebuked him savagely, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings do.' Jesus clearly wanted only those to be his followers whowould accept him as the Rejected One…and then, later, as the one who surmounted this rejection by his rising from the dead.
And what is more, such a disciple would have to be one who was prepared to be rejected even as Jesus would be. Jesus warned them that in loyalty to him there would be renunciations for them to make and crosses for them carry. They would need to have the courage of their conviction, and in so doing they would transcend all the hostility that might be thrown at them.
As Jesus laid down these ground-rules for discipleship he must have been thinking of himself. Knowing that he was the Christ, the Suffering Servant of the Lord, he had to come to terms with what this would mean for him. In Gethsemane, he would pray, 'My soul is sorrowful to the point of death …Abba, Father! For you everything is possible. Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you, not I, would have it' (Mark 14.34). What courage in his convictions! This is Jesus in an intensely loving relationship with his Heavenly Father, and yet a tortured relationship - not with the torture of resentment but the torture of extreme apprehension of the pain that loving obedience imposed.
At this very moment some of you may be living out your Christianity in fear for your lives. Yet others, in an increasingly secular society, may becornered by legislation that deeply offends your consciences. You may have a heavy career-price to pay if your convictions prevent you from following your leaders. Others of you may be subjected to victimization and vilification for no other reason than that you choose to wear in public the accepted Christian symbol - the Cross.
Many of you, young and old, insist on living according to certain values. Day in, day out, you meet with jeers for being idealistic - out of touch reality which is practical, efficient, and capable of generating a measure of wealth, comfort, pleasure and success. You who would be ashamed to be part of this cynicism oblige yourselves to make renunciations and to carry the crosses of hardship and privation. I wish to affirm you in your courageously living up to your deep convictions!
What distinguishes us from the brute beasts is that we humans can identify and espouse ideals and insist on living by them, in the full knowledge that this will involve much personal sacrifice. By contrast, animals pursue gratification and survival by all means possible without any qualms of conscience.
And what distinguishes us as Christians is that our idealism is drawn from Jesus, the Christ, who for us is the Way, the Truth and the Life. As his followers we live in a loving relationship with Christ. It is a relationship that is far from comfortable, far from cozy. In fact, it is in many ways a tortured relationship, grounded on our resolve to remain his disciples, no matter what the cost to ourselves.