SEE I AM SETTING BEFORE YOU LIFE AND HAPPINESS, DEATH AND MISERY. In today's Gospel Jesus continues, with refinements, the line of teaching that is set forth already in the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses presents the path that leads to life and happiness as the way of obedience to the commandments of God accepted with love. Jesus, who elsewhere expresses his agreement with this view, here makes it, clear that this obedience entails the acceptance of suffering and death. He who would save his life will lose it; he who loses his life for my sake will save it. His followers must resolutely confront the consequences of this doctrine and take up their cross daily and follow after him.
This doctrine is an austere one that puts a whole new perspective on the words of Moses. He had promised a long life lived in prosperity amidst the fields and flocks of the fertile hills and valleys of the Promised Land. Our Lord saw more deeply into the plans of the Father. The happiness that he came to reveal and preach is not associated with worldly comforts and success. The opposite is the case, as he proclaims in this and other similar passages of the Gospel that he announced. His kingdom, he later told Pilate, is not of this world, yet he is indeed truly a king. The requirements of discipleship in his company are determined by the mysterious plan of the Father to redeem our fallen race by the sacrifice of his beloved son. Those who would be members of the kingdom must be closely associated with the son in carrying his cross and following him through death.
This radical message of Jesus was too much for his disciples at the time it was preached. Only after the resurrection could they grasp its import and accept its demands. To be joined to the Lord in glory we must be united with him in his obedience, his humiliation, even in his death. Such an understanding of what it means to be a Christian is hardly easier for us to grasp and accept today than it was for the apostles prior to the Passion of Christ. It is a hard saying for the flesh, as our Lord well knew and emphasized.
Enter through the narrow gate, for broad and wide is the gate that leads to destruction and many are they who enter by it. How narrow and painful is the way that leads to life and few are they who find it (Matthew 7: 13, 14).
But to follow it is to take the path of life that ends in joy. Today we ourselves are confronted with this ageless teaching. At the beginning of Lent the Church invites us to enter upon this narrow way of voluntary sharing in the self-renunciation of our Lord in obedience to his Father's plan. Our measure of suffering is, to be sure, but a small one compared with his; it is adapted to our very limited capacity. However, we are confident that when we take on ourselves the discipline of the cross with faith and the desire to follow him and in keeping with our limited measure, we will be accepted by him who has first loved us and given himself for us.
The Eucharist we offer this evening is a pledge of his love. The Lord who comes to us in communion intends that we should take confidence in his acceptance of us that this sacrament represents. Here we find the strength and motivation for entering with greater determination and a stronger resolution upon this way to life. If it is narrow in its beginning and painful at times as we traverse it, yet we have our Lord himself as our companion and guide. We also are sustained by all of those who with us seek to be his faithful followers. Let us then make of this Lent a new beginning of our discipleship and by our self-denial and more fervent prayer and practice draw nearer to our goal, the fullness of life in Christ, in the kingdom of God our Father.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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