5th Sunday of Lent
March 18, 2018
If a man serves me, he must follow me; wherever I am, there my servant shall be.
from John 12:20-33
One of the most surprising facts about the early church for a Catholic is that Christians in the first century did not use crucifixes. Churches did not begin to display Jesus on the cross until sometime after Constantine legalized Christianity and outlawed crucifixions. It was only after Christians began to “forget” how awful crucifixion was that we begin to see Christ on a crucifix in churches instead of a bare cross.
In today’s gospel our Lord tells us that, if we are a real follower of his, we will be asked to take up our cross and follow him. Where I am, there my servant will be. First of all, notice Jesus is not asking me to take up his cross – but mine. My life is going to have unique crosses; they will be my own.
Jesus spoke of his own cross: he said, what should I say? Father, save me from this hour? But it was precisely for this cross that I came into the world. We can learn quite a lot from this statement. We are not here just to practice “cross-avoidance” or to be able to avoid all pain. We are here for a mission and that mission is going to involve self-sacrifice for others or one special other, and those sacrifices are always in the end for Jesus. Most of us have many such opportunities: a sick child, parent or spouse; listening instead of talking; giving when it is not appreciated; giving way to avoid an argument and a thousand other ways we die to self.
The cross: most of us would just as soon wiggle out of one, if possible, but sometimes we just can’t. The Imitation of Christ speaks about “cross-avoidance” in some detail. It points out that we can try to run from our cross with what we would call today a geographical cure (moving somewhere else), a new job, new home, new spouse, or some sort of anesthesia; but we can be sure that, when we have arrived there, we are likely to find the cross all the same and perhaps an even heavier one than we sought to avoid.
Father, save me from this hour. Is it possible that the very cross you seek to avoid is the one most valuable thing in your life? Isn’t it funny how the sufferings we went through with someone, though it seemed awful at the time, are actually among our most valuable possessions later on? Why is this? There is an old expression that love is what you have been through with someone. Selfish love, “cross-avoidance” type love is, ultimately, sterile. It is our sufferings on the behalf of others that prove our love. And the sufferings I have shared with Jesus will be my greatest joy in the world to come. Love is what we have been through with someone and this is really true of Jesus.