February 18, 2011 - Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The teaching of Jesus today is for those who have already decided to follow him. He is explaining the cost of discipleship. We have to deny ourselves and take up our cross. Jesus sets the denial as a prerequisite to discipleship. Of course, as we grow in our faith, we will have a deeper understanding of what this denial means; as we grow in grace, we will be better equipped to deny ourselves. At the beginning, however, we have to make a positive decision to deny ourselves.

Some people try to follow Jesus without denying themselves. They may be very enthusiastic; they often mean well. They are not trying to disobey Jesus; they merely never learned that denial was the cost of discipleship. They would not commit a sin if it involved hurting somebody, but they are confused by the other side of morality. How many times I have heard someone say, “What good does fasting do? I am going to do something useful instead.”! This is like saying, “What good does bathing do? I am going to eat something instead.” A Christian life that consisted only of doing useful things would be rather pointless. There would be no growth. A Christian should do good things, but they should deny themself also.

Jesus asks, “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” It is possible and popular to interpret this verse to say that no success in this world is worth sinning for. This is true, but this understanding does not fit in with the surrounding verses. Taken as a whole, Jesus is telling us what Socrates told the Athenians, what any good philosopher teaches: the remarkable man is not the one who commands 10,000 other men; the truly remarkable man commands himself. Jesus is not telling us that in pursuit of success we should use lawful means; he is questioning success as the world sees it. What do I want with the whole world? What would I do with it if I had it? My soul, however, I would like to be in control of. I would like to truly be master of myself. Death, which leads to new life, means the death of pride, the death of greed, the death of lust, the death of laziness, the death of envy, the death of gluttony, the death of wrath. Self-denial is the weapon. Employ it mercilessly.