Christ carrying the Cross, El Greco (1541–1614), c.1610; Prado Museum, Madrid

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, 4 September 2022

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.¹

This Sunday we hear some of the hardest words from Christ. He is on his way to Jerusalem to the passion before him and he takes the opportunity to speak to the multitude that were following him. Christ doesn’t hold back and declares; “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, he cannot be my disciple.”²

The shocking nature of these words are profound, yet to grasp what Christ is saying we do have to put them into context. Christ has already accused the pharisees and lawyers of denying the very commandment to honour your father and mother by allowing a loophole for those children not wanting to care for their parents.³ He has also answered the question about which is the greatest of the commandments by stating the first is to love God with your entire being and the second is to love one’s neighbour. Whatever Christ is saying here, it isn’t to literally hate our nearest and dearest.

To help us it is important to note the use of hyperbole and particular idioms in the Semitic culture. It was a common custom to use an extreme opposite to make a point. We are not unfamiliar with this rhetorical tool in our own interactions. We might use the idiom ‘it is raining cats and dogs’ to express severe rainfall. To a nagging child we might use hyperbole saying, “you’ve asked that a thousand times already!”

Christ is also using hyperbole to get home his point. He challenges the crowd by telling them that they are standing at a crossroads and it is time to make a decision. Which direction are you going? Is it to Jerusalem with Christ and the passion, or another direction altogether? If it is with Christ, then you must set him as your first priority above everyone and everything else. In this direction lies a cross that you must embrace if you are to follow Christ. You will need to let go of every possession to be a disciple.

Christ sets the pathway before us by himself emptying himself of everything that is rightly his. He does not hold on to his equality with God and becomes a servant. All his possessions of this world are systematically taken away. His honour, glory and majesty are stripped. He will be torn away from Mary his mother, who will in agony have to watch his torture and passion. His disciples will all abandon or deny him and even his undergarment, that Mary had made for him, would be stripped from his body at the crucifixion. He would not even be allowed his dignity.

This isn’t mindless, senseless, suffering — but a journey with a purpose. It reveals the true nature of divine love. He suffered all this so that you and I might be reconciled, healed and united with our heavenly Father once again. It was to defeat death and open the way to eternal life that he emptied himself for us.

Christ has shown us the way. True divine love lies in the Way of the Cross. Divine wisdom reveals the paradox that to live we must die, to be first we must be last and servant of all. To obtain heaven we have to let go of all earthly possessions and glory.

It is only this way of love that enables me to love aright those closest to me. If I am to love my father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters, the stranger, poor, alien and widow, then I must put Christ first and love him above all else. It isn’t what we can take from our relationships which makes them healthy and life-giving, but what we are willing to give up and surrender for the sake of another which enables an expression of divine love that is life-giving to those whom we love.

So we stand at a crossroads: Which way are we to go? Perhaps it is something we have to decide each and every day. Am I willing to give up my life and all that I have for Christ, to follow him to Golgotha, so that I might be fit to enter the heavenly Jerusalem?

¹ Luke 14:27
² Luke 14:26
³ Mark 7:11–12; Matthew 15:4–6

The editorial title is quoted from Take up thy cross, the Saviour said by Charles Everest (1814–1877).