Deny yourself, take your cross and follow me
IF ANYONE WISHES TO COME AFTER ME LET HIM DENY HIMSELF AND TAKE UP HIS CROSS DAILY. (Luke 9: 23).
This text is surely one of the most fundamental of the whole of the Christian life. It is meant not only for the apostles, not only for monks but for all followers of Christ, all the faithful without exception. To accept Christ, to put faith in him entails, then, living a life of self-denial, even of suffering which is symbolized here by the powerful image of the cross.
Faith and contemplation must be sustained by the imitation of Christ; without the asceticism and discipline and self-denial that fervent Christians have always practiced, there is no authentic life in Christ.
This self denial and patient acceptance of some measure of suffering is not reserved for some special occasion when a particular effort must be made in order to remain faithful; rather, it is a regular way of life, a fundamental disposition that is brought to bear on all occasions as is indicated by the expression daily.
Such an attitude of selfless dedication is then the norm for discipleship for Christians. By this measure we are to judge our self and our performance day by day. If we would know what worth we possess in God's eyes this is the standard according to which we may estimate our value. Who among us can claim that he measures up to so exacting a demand?
As if realizing how readily we put such teaching out of mind and find ways to explain it away, in order to reinforce the seriousness with which he inculcates this norm Jesus goes on to draw out the radical implication of his doctrine in stark language. He who wishes to save his soul will lose it; he who loses his soul for my sake will find it. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to destroy or forfeit himself?, he asks. Deny yourself, take up your cross, lose your life, are here employed as three ways of depicting the attitude of a true follower of Christ. The gain to be achieved by taking on this dispositions and living by these norms is that one becomes a follower of Christ, saves his life and, as he ends by stating, is counted worthy to see the kingdom of God.
This promise of our Lord that those who follow him as he takes up his cross will be joined to him when he comes in his kingdom leads St. Luke to append immediately the narrative of our Lord's Transfiguration. With three chosen disciples he ascends the high mountain of Tabor where he is suddenly transfigured by a divine light that renders his whole person a dazzling manifestation of glory. His followers are given a taste of the kingdom in anticipation of his coming passage out of this world, called here his exodus.
The purpose of this revelation is to strengthen his disciples' faith in his promises and confidence in his person. We will need all the faith and trust we can obtain when the time of suffering and humiliation comes upon us, the Lord well knows. Seeing him already glorified and hearing the approbation he receives from the Father's voice are to serve as a stimulus to adhere to him as he sets his face to go up to Jerusalem, as we read later in this same chapter. The glory of God shining on the face of Christ gives light to the eyes of our heart and instills in our spirit eagerness to join him in the presence of the Father.