Then [Jesus] said to them, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23
A Word of Hope
“Deny” is not a word that most of us like to hear. When we think about denying ourselves, we assume that we are going to be losing something, something that we like, something that we believe is a good thing in our lives. Deny is one of those words that most often carries with it negative connotations.
For most Christians, the idea of self-denial surfaces only during Lent. The belief is that self-denial is something that is done only during this penitential season. After Easter, all bets are off. How many times have you heard someone say, or maybe you have said yourself, “I can give up ____ for forty days?” In this passage from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is not talking about denying ourselves only during the forty days of Lent. And, He is not talking about denying ourselves of only one worldly thing. He is talking about denying ourselves all day every day. He is talking about denying ourselves anything and everything that comes between us and Him.
In this passage, Jesus does not tell us the “why” for his instruction. Though if we stop and think, it is not difficult to figure out. Simply stated, to be a true disciple, Jesus needs to come first in our lives. What God desires of us and from us needs to be our primary motivator in all things. It is not about what we want for ourselves. Jesus is telling us that we need to let our false selves die, that self that seeks power and control and satisfaction through worldly things.
When we deny ourselves something, the place that something once occupied is now vacant. This creates room for something else. Namely, Jesus. When we are not preoccupied with making money or taking care of the things that we have bought with our money or what we need to do to climb the social or corporate ladder, etc., that time can be spent in prayer and doing the true work of Christ.
The final part of this passage, “…take up their cross daily…,” is Jesus acknowledging that what he is asking of his disciples is not easy; it’s challenging; it’s hard. The weight of the cross is both a burden and our source of strength.
In this life where so many things are competing for my attention, help me to keep my heart and mind foremost on Jesus. Amen.
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare