Ever wonder if Jesus thought about needing to lose a little weight?
The question popped into my head today, as I reflected on the instructions he gave the disciples in the Gospel passage from Luke we heard at Mass.
‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’
I don’t know about Jesus, but I know it wouldn’t hurt me to trim an inch or two off my waist. In fact, it’s one of the very real benefits I could see from this whole business of ‘denying myself’ this Lent.
Is that the sort of thing Jesus had in mind, though?
Something tells me the answer is ‘probably not.’ Even so, it’s easy to get caught up in the heroics of the way Jesus lived his life, to the point where it obscures our true calling as Christians.
Indeed, just one breath before the instruction about self-denial, Jesus seems rather firm in his resolve about the end-game for his time on earth:
‘The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.’
But is suffering the goal of his existence? Or is it rather the by-product—the result—of his unyielding desire to proclaim the Good News? That seems a bit closer to the truth in my estimation: Jesus wants all to know the compassion of God, the mercy of God. And he knows it won’t be a popular message. Because it will disrupt the social order (and turn many of the ‘haves’ into the ‘have-nots’) there’s likely a price to be paid.
The price, of course, is the cross.
Literally, for Jesus. On some level, too, it’s the price that all of Jesus’ followers must pay. We must take up our crosses daily—our diseases; our addictions; our broken hearts; our financial burdens; our weight gains; our child-rearing worries—not because there’s anything particularly ennobling about the pain we experience in life. Rather, we’re being invited to follow Jesus, by keeping our eyes on the prize…by making firm our resolve.
We are the eyes and lips and arms and legs through which Christ chooses to proclaim the Good News today. And when we embrace the call completely, Jesus promises us a freedom that no earthly power can destroy.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.