By happy coincidence, today’s Gospel (Luke 9:18-24) reading ties in beautifully with tomorrow’s feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Luke 1:57-66, 80). In this week’s reading, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” One of the responses given is “John the Baptist.” Recall that by this time in Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist had been martyred by Herod, so the crowds thought that somehow Jesus was John raised from the dead.
When John was ministering near the Jordan River, he was fond of saying, “He must increase; I must decrease.” Indeed, the birth of John the Baptist is celebrated six months prior to the birth of Jesus. This celebration coincides with the summer solstice after which the days get shorter. In contrast, the birth of Jesus is celebrated shortly after the winter solstice, marking the time when the days become longer.
As we reflect upon the readings, we are reminded that if we are to be a true disciple, we must take up our cross and follow the Lord. This is the “cost of discipleship” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes in his book of the same title. Sometimes it is difficult to deal with our personal crosses and we wish that they were not so heavy. We may become jealous of other who seemingly have a lighter load. We may think that others are not suffering as much as we are. But as is often the case, we really don’t know the extent of someone else’s challenges until we’ve walked in their shoes. Outward appearances can often be deceiving.
That is why Jesus uses the singular form: “if anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily….” In other words, being a disciple means having a personal relationship with Jesus. As our Protestant brothers and sisters like to ask, “Have you been born again?” and “Do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” As Catholics, we can answer “yes” to the first question. We were born again in baptism. We should be able to answer “yes” to the second question as well. Our baptism was ratified at our confirmation when we reaffirmed our baptismal promises. As people over the age of reason, we were able to speak for ourselves and say “yes, I want to be a Christian and I want to follow the Lord.” However, that ratification must be renewed daily, just as we take up our cross on a daily basis. We need to reaffirm that we accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. We should never be afraid to stand up for our faith. Nor should we fear to demonstrate our faith by works and actions. People should know that we are Christians.
Like John the Baptist, we must always point out Christ. Our mission as disciples is to make Christ’s presence increase in the world while our presence should diminish. When we do good works, people should offer praise to God. In other words, our lives should reflect the Lord.
Throughout this summer season, may our discipleship grow and flourish by the way in which we take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Jesus. May each of our lives help us to become mirrors of God’s presence in the world.