the penultimate WORD
Series 1999 - Proper 22 Canon Jim Irvine
The cross has been a problem from the beginning.


Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?  "For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Matthew 16: 24-28


The cross has been a problem from the beginning.

Jesusí words of invitation are inevitably met with hesitancy. Self-denial and crosses have never been attractive and a discipleship dependant on them will attract few followers. Whatever the amount, to whatever degree, self-denial presents a personal threat that is embraced with reluctance. Our self has little appetite for denial. We may be generous, we may be outgoing, but our largesse is exercised after our care for self.

Thereís no question about it. Following Jesus comes at a cost. And that cost is seen in terms of self-denial.

Self-denial, expressed in temporal terms, and coupled with the taking up of our cross is often seen as a punishment of the highest order. It is greeted with reluctance, if at all.

Thatís our first mistake. Like Peter, we think as man thinks and not as God thinks. And when it comes to self, we demonstrate Jesusí insight without fail.

Our pre-occupation with cost-and-reward thinking puts us at a disadvantage.

We are quick to calculate the cost and equally quick to conclude that self-denial and the cross are punishment, chiefly because it applies to ourselves. When we look to Jesus, however, these threatening circumstances are transformed. We have an opportunity to see them, as it were, with new eyes. Jesusí preference for others, his care and his healing, his nurturing and his giving brought wholeness and redemption to diminished lives, broken and tired.

Pilate would watch Jesus from a balcony, carrying his cross to Golgotha, and see him punished. However, it is not punishment that was exacted that day by God but life and promise: a new promise, a new covenant, sealed in blood and assuring forgiveness. Passover enacted again, the Lambís blood on the lintel protecting and delivering those within!

And the reward?

If anything is to be gained, it is seen as a settlement, as a payment, as a reward. Popular thought has us settle up after death. But that is not what Jesus says in todayís Gospel. "There are some standing here," Jesus says, "who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

Now, of course, each one who was standing there listening to Jesus has died, and long ago. What could Jesus possibly have meant by these words? The implication is clear enough: some heard the clear note of authority and recognized the inauguration of the kingdom in Jesusí ministry.

The kingdom is no longer anticipated, but has its beginning marked by the words and gestures of Jesus as he touched broken and tired lives. "The kingdom," Jesus would tell his listeners, "is in your midst." Not reward, but promise realized!

Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine

Series 1999