Denial as a Path to Life


The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark 8:34-9:1

The world we are living in today has many many obstacles to growing in holiness. It has many distractions that tempt us from praying and learning to read holy words or the lives of the saints. But the worst problem of all is that there are many false idols in our world. We are taught, even from a young age, to love and work hard for things that ultimately will pass away, for things that can never give us life or peace or joy.

The worst idol of all in our times is the idol of the self. Me, myself and I. George Harrison of the Beatles wrote in one of his songs “All through the day I, Me, Mine, I, Me, Mine, I, Me, Mine.” And if we think about it, our personal feelings are the biggest obstacles to growing closer to God. A man or woman have unhappy feelings in their marriage, they begin to think not about what God asks of them, or what is pleasing to God. No! They immediately think about their own feelings and what they wants, what they desires, even what they “deserve”. An individual feels disconnected from the Church. They come up with reasons why they should no longer come and worship. They will do this based on their feelings saying “I just don’t feel the way I used to about Church” or “I’m just not enthusiastic about it these days.”

These days people are choosing to do all sorts of really terrible things, and the justification for most of those choices are “personal feelings”. This is another way of saying that you answer only to yourself, that you are in fact your own god. But where is the living God in the course of our life? Where is the Lord of heaven and earth when we make our choices and decisions. What would the Lord Jesus Christ say about the way that we live our lives? Perhaps the more important question is “Does it even matter to us?”

Today’s reading gives us some of the Lord’s difficult words. But I don’t want you to focus on the fact that they are difficult words, I want you to focus on the fact that they are truth. We can decide to live all of our lives with our heads buried in the sand or with the general impression that everything is alright. “I’m alright with my family, my spiritual life is alright, whatever I choose to do is alright, whatever my friends decide to do is alright, after all, who am I to judge what they do.” So this is the way that people speak these days and while it makes us feel better about ourselves and our situations, it may be wrong. But one thing I do know … His word is truth.

Here is what our Lord Jesus has to say: If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it. Let him deny himself. We each have struggles and difficulties and crosses in our lives, some of them are quite painful. What is the thought process that we go through when we encounter difficulties? Do we think about what is best for us according to our feelings or do we think about how we can follow Christ?

As Christians we sometimes get the impression that “following Christ” means that we are going to leave everything to become preachers or priests or monks or nuns or missionaries. The Lord is not speaking only to those people. He is speaking to everyone who desires to follow Him. He is speaking of all the people who call Him “Lord” and “Master.” Those who are going to walk behind Him for their whole life and follow Him directly into the kingdom of His Father. His teachings offer us no wiggle room at all, not even the slightest bit. If we want to walk with the Lord, we must not compromise. He loves us. He wants us to follow Him. He wants to lead us to His heavenly dwelling among the saints. This is the love of Christ, the love of the Shepherd for His sheep. He wants us to stay on the path, close to Him so that the wolves will not snatch us away.

So we have to get out of the habit of being led by our feelings and emotions because being led by the emotions of our fallen condition is like being led on a leash. The demons tug and we go the way they lead us. The Lord doesn’t say “If you want to follow Me, then do so whenever it is convenient.” He doesn’t say “If you want to follow Me, you can choose what you like in my teachings and what you don’t, because your personal feelings are different from Mine.” He doesn’t say “Follow Me, unless doing so makes you look weird, or makes you an outcast.” The Lord’s truth doesn’t change for our feelings or opinions. It is not a relative truth. It requires true denial of self. This is basically asking the impossible in our day and age because the self has been so elevated above all else. Our Lord however tells us to deny ourselves and goes so far as to hint at the fact that our denial will not only be painful, it will actually be the beginning of the path to our own crucifixion … but until we die to ourselves, we can’t be resurrected to life in Christ!

It seems crazy for us to speak this way and yet the Lord does not say much that is “sane” by our modern standards. He says love God, love your neighbor, love your enemy, bless those who curse you, give without asking in return, and the list goes on. Denial is the life of a Christian. The Lord denied Himself the rights of God in order to be lowered to our human condition. He denied Himself again by being accused and murdered unjustly as a criminal. A complete denial led to the true revelation of who Christ really is. We in turn must be ready to deny ourselves completely in order that Christ might raise our fallen human nature to share in His divine glory. AMEN.

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