Today's Gospel reading from Mark chapter 8, is a watershed moment in the Gospel. Christ explains to his disciples that his death and crucifixion is coming. In response to this hard news, Peter rebukes Christ, and Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns" (Mark 8:33). They're strong words. Peter would one day become the rock of the Church, but here Christ calls him out for doing Satan's work - that is, for seeking a life of power and worldly ambitions.
Christ then instructs us in the Way of the Cross:
The Way of the Cross - Mark 8:34-38, 9:1 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
Christ reveals the Way of the Cross, a way of living that is in complete contrast to the way the world operates. Interestingly, in the earliest days, the faithful referred to the Orthodox Church as “the Way.” It is a different and unique Way, one that is encompassed by the denial and death of the sinful self.
In order for us to experience the glory of the resurrection, we must first die to our selves. This very truth that Saint Peter was shocked by continues to confound all of humanity: we can’t jump ahead to the joy of the resurrection, without first carrying our cross and dying on it.
Buried beneath our sin and selfishness, there is a true version of ourselves waiting to be exhumed and restored. This version of ourselves is made in a Divine image. It is a self that is completely true and pure, unaffected by the fleeting worries and wants of the world. It is a self that is full of peace and love, not pride and vanity.
There are two steps that Christ instructs us to take in order to follow Him:
First, we must deny ourselves. This means we must root out our selfish desires. We must work to overcome our sins and temptations so we can live a life illuminated by love.
Second, we are to carry our cross. This means accepting that suffering and adversity is a part of life, and we cannot run from it, shield ourselves from it or numb ourselves against it. We must endure it with persistence and without complaint, because suffering teaches us humility.
If we want to share in Christ’s life, we must also share in His death. If we want to participate in His glory, we must share in His humiliation. If we want to become our true selves in Christ, we must die to the distorted and sinful version of ourselves.
Ask yourself, what parts of myself must die so that my true self can live? Make a re-commitment today to take up that cross and set out on our own personal Golgotha.