Joyful Amidst Self-Denial
February 28, 2021
Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
Bishop Ariel P. Santos
We continue in our journey in the pilgrim way of Lent. In the gospel today, Jesus presents to us the cost of discipleship – of self-denial. St. Paul says that the sufferings we face right now are nothing compared to the glory that is to be revealed. We have joy in the midst of self-denial. The sufferings are nothing compared to the joy of the Lord.
Hebrews says that Jesus, because of the joy set before Him, endured the cross. The joy is being able to give life to those who are in need of it and godliness is great gain as St. Paul says.
In Mark 8:31-38, Jesus was teaching His disciples and there is a lesson to be learned: to listen and to learn because Jesus is speaking. Jesus stated the matter plainly. Not in parables in saying that He will suffer many things from the hands of the Scribes and Pharisees and Gentiles, and He will forgive them. He will be killed and on the third day, He will rise again. The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, their gospel account of this statement of Jesus all ends with “And on the third day, He will rise again." These things always lead to a glorious resurrection and new life.
Jesus is teaching us plainly, but sometimes, in our own understanding and leaning on it, we say ‘no’ to God and we try to educate Him. Peter said, “No, Lord,” not understanding that Jesus is the Christ. The Christ, the Messiah, always lays down His life for others. Thus, when we say, “No, Lord,” these two words are a contradiction. If we say, “Lord”, it is His will be done. If we say no, this means He’s not Lord. Jesus is Lord means we follow His will, not ours, even if we think that our reasoning makes sense and that we are right.
How do we know God’s will? In most cases, we do. Sometimes the matter is laid plainly. We hear the voice of the Holy Spirit through natural law like “Thou shall not kill.” A pregnant mother would think of this because of her own comfort. Our conscience bears witness to the Holy Spirit when we meditate on the Word of God. God speaks through people, through authority, like parents.
The better question is not “How do I know His will?” but rather “Will I obey?” Sometimes, thinking we are right is really liking to think we are right. As God states the matter plainly, we should follow and deny ourselves even of our supposed right to our opinion. Lean not on our own understanding, take up our cross. The Cross always means: our lives for others, for God’s sake, and then follow Jesus. This is when Jesus is Lord. Sometimes, we call Him “Lord” but really, He is our personal assistant, our personal butler, whom we make to be at our service at our beg and call doing our own will.
Jesus told Peter, “Get behind Me! Don’t get in My way.” “Get behind Me and follow in My footsteps.” The best position of a Christian is not in the way of Jesus, but behind following Him. Sometimes, it is easy to follow when He commands us to do things just as a prelude to a miracle – “Fill the pots with water”; “Bring the blind man to Me”; “Bring the fish and the loaves.” But what about when He is going to Jerusalem and Jesus says, “Get behind Me, follow Me and I am going to Jerusalem? I will suffer in the hands of sinners, I will be insulted, I will be killed and I will forgive.” Will we follow?
Always remember, it always leads to, “In three days, Jesus will rise again.” This will strengthen us to endure and to have joy in the midst of trials. Don’t set our minds on what “makes sense” to us but what pleases God. What pleases God and what His will is always leads to victory, to glory, and to life. Godliness, following the will of God, is great gain compared to what we are called to give up. The life that is waiting for us is so much more and what we deny is nothing compared to the glory that is to be revealed.
There is joy in the midst of our self-denial including in the times that we make mistakes. Even if we sometimes missed His voice, as long as we are in unity, in submission, God will work it out and make it lead to us rising again. Obey first before we complain, protest, or even attempt to educate God as to what is right and wrong. God, in His mercy, will cause all things, even the mistakes, to work together for good. In the song, “For A Faith That Will Not Shrink,” one line goes, “...that will not murmur nor complain beneath the chastening rod...”
In CEC, consensus government doesn’t mean a unanimous agreement where all have to agree; but there is unity and submission. The prerequisites based on spiritual authority and submission are: good relationship among council members; each should be committed to the Church as evidenced by regularly giving of tithes; being honest, submitted, supportive and respectful even if overruled. Leaning not on our own understanding preserves the unity. Sometimes, authority or leaders can be wrong, but even in midst of our mistakes, God works and causes all things to work together for good.
To be in in unity is laying down our own will, agenda, opinion, and ambition, leaning not on our own understanding and totally submitting to God. In short, it is a firm understanding of spiritual authority. We deny ourselves; we die to our flesh and pride, and we follow Christ even to a point of death. He who wishes to save the (self-indulgent) life will lose it; and he will lose out on the true life that God has in store for him. If he give this up or he who loses his life, for Jesus’ sake and the gospel’s, he will find true eternal life.
Sadly, many lose their life for sake of something a lot less valuable than the gospel. Scripture says, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” We may get what we want, but it doesn’t give us lasting joy and satisfaction. What God wants for us is something that results in real joy.
Life, in some Bible translation, is soul. Our life (soul) is our conscience; it is our zeal for God; and nothing can take its place and losing this makes life meaningless.
2 Corinthians 5:15 says, "Jesus died for all so they who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them.” Jesus dying for us doesn’t mean that we go to heaven when we die, but to give us eternal life. St. Paul defines what eternal life is: that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him. Eternal life is living not for ourselves, not for our wants, not according to our will and own understanding, but to follow His will and to please Him.
Who is Him? Where can we find Him? Him, whom we live for is the least, the lost, the lonely, and the needy. Him is His body, the Church. Him is His body and blood in the Eucharist. We live for this and this is essential. There may be the restrictions during this pandemic, but it remains to be essential. We live for the Eucharist and we follow Him through our storms, through the Holy Week towards Easter.
We deny ourselves, we take up our cross, and we follow Him. We live for Him because this is great gain. God doesn’t call us to take up our crosses and suffer and die with Him. Jesus did this for us, but God wants us to participate in it so that we can also live with Him because it is great gain. It is joy in the midst of self-denial because this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.