The Burden of the Cross
Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year (C) | Fr Bruno Clifton considers the burden of discipleship and the consequences of taking up the Cross to follow Christ.
In our intercessions at Vespers we pray, ‘give a new heart to those who have fallen from the practice of the faith; may they again find joy in Christian discipleship.’
Being discouraged in the faith is really a feeling that there is a cost to following Christ but no gain.
Now, when we begin our Christian discipleship at Baptism we are asked if we ‘renounce the lure of evil.’ ‘Lure’ is the right word. Choices leading us away from the following of Christ have a veneer, a glamour, a false shine on what seems preferable. In today’s world, when we are struggling to remain faithful and observant to the practices of our faith and the teaching of Jesus, discarding such demands can seem the better part. Discipleship can lead to problems, persecutions or simply stop us gaining what the world has to offer.
Amidst a world that ignores God and shakes its head at the faithful who do not do so, we can understand the weariness of the embattled psalmist.
‘I am bound by the vows I have made you…’ (Ps 56:12)
For faced with the world and its thinking, discipleship often feels a burden and a fruitless restriction on freedom.
Jesus is careful not to hide the burden of following him from us.
‘If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple.’ (Luke 14:26)
Jesus’s two examples of counting the cost (vv28-32) imply that we must be prepared to lose everything before we start. Is the cost of following Jesus too great?
This is how the glamour of evil makes discipleship feel – the loss of everything and nothing gained.
But, this is also how evil is shown up to be a lure, a trap, something that seems to offer a good, but whose good is fleeting, impermanent and even the cause of a deeper emptiness. Pursuit of the world before God who is its source is a fruitless enterprise, the desire becoming a burden itself.
The book of Wisdom laments the burden of the world, ‘a perishable body presses down the soul, and this tent of clay weighs down the teeming mind.’ (Wis 9:15)
While the world seems to offer freedom, it is rather a libertarianism that leads to compulsion and slavery. This is why renouncing the lure of evil needs the catalyst that is God’s salvific grace, given first in Baptism.
Jesus, the one to whom we go for rest from heavy burdens, teaches why we should prefer the burden of discipleship to that of sin.
‘Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.’ (Luke 14:27)
It is because the cross is laid on those who resist the world in favour of the kingdom; who reject the lure of evil and face the world’s fury – just like Christ, our saviour.
Jesus makes this claim earlier in Luke’s Gospel, following Peter’s confession of faith. In this revelation of identity, Jesus, Son of God and heir to the kingdom tells his disciples what being the Christ means.
‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (9:22-23)
The cost of following Jesus is everything of ourselves, because Jesus desires to redeem everything of ourselves. It means preferring to be like Jesus, God’s Son and inheriting the kingdom ‘which is within you’ (17:21) rather than having anything else.
For, as Jesus says, ‘what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself?’ (9:25)
St Paul certainly understood the consequences of following the saviour.
‘For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.’ (Rom 8:15-17)
Being followers of Christ means being like Christ who emptied himself and gained the world for himself.
The above image is from the chapel of Our Lady of Africa in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC.