Our Gospel today speaks to the theme “Letting Go” or “Sacrifice.” Our passage today follows the time when Jesus is with the disciples on the way to the villages of Caesarea Philipi. He asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8: 27). Naturally they give several answers of what other people say who Jesus is. Jesus comes back with, but “who do you say that I am?” (V. 29). The point being, Jesus urges the disciples and us to consider carefully who we say Jesus is. Depending on how we answer that question, it will no doubt affect our response to today’s Gospel where we learn in more detail the consequences of being a follower of Jesus and ultimately will influence who we say Jesus is for us.
With the question of who we say Jesus is in the back of our minds we are met today with images of death and resurrection. We hear also of how we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross if we are to be followers of Jesus. We are told that those of us who lose our lives for Jesus and the Gospel will actually save their lives (Mark 8: 34-35). This is a hard concept to understand. How is it that in dying we save our lives? What kind of death is Jesus talking about? What kind of life is he referring to? So many questions, with what seems to be so few answers half the time.
In our baptism, the baptized undergo a “mini-death.” As we are dipped in the water or water is poured over our heads our old lives “die” in a way. As we come out of the water, we begin a new life with Christ. For some of us, this is the first time we commit ourselves to Christ. Choosing Christ means also, choosing the way of the cross. A way that is not always easy to travel, a way that will cause us to stumble many times. Even Jesus fell while taking up his cross. To be fully alive in God we need to learn to let go of the wild beasts we learned about last week. We need them to be put in their right place. As we reflect on our own lives we may recognize times when we have undergone a mini death, or several mini deaths. Every time we change jobs, move to another city or country we undergo a death. All of these require us to let go of the old, allow them to die, for us to embrace the new.
What makes any of this easier to do depends on the reason behind these decisions. Choices we make freely and happily are easier to adapt to and are welcomed. When making choices under duress, the cross we are asked to carry is that much more of a burden to carry.
In choosing this life, a life where we are asked to take up our cross and undergo “mini-deaths” along the way, we begin to experience and know what it means to be fully human. At the same time, God understands our humanity and what it means to be human as God come to us in our world in the person of Jesus. Jesus experienced human life in much the same way you and I experience life. In this way we have a shared humanity with God which brings us into deeper relationship and understanding of God and what it means to be in union with God. Our shared experiences with the Divine help us participate more fully in expressing who we really are - God’s beloved children.