Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Being a “follower” doesn’t have the best connotation in our 21st century American culture. On a daily basis, I have at least five emails directed at me, or toward my students, on various “leadership” seminars, teaching strategies, or books designed to launch us forward as leaders. Leaders of what? Leaders of whom? Sometimes, it seems like we are so busy focusing on what it takes to be a leader that we forget where the leaders are headed…or what it means to authentically follow.
Jesus doesn’t paint a rose-colored picture of being his follower, either. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Lose your life. I don’t hear a lot of those phrases in the advertisements for leadership training seminars in my inbox.
But, pause for just a moment. Whose voice is speaking this Gospel, the “Good News” of a new way of living? Jesus is leading towards a path that leads to something different than safety and upward mobility. The Gospel begins with an acknowledgement that Jesus knows exactly where his journey is leading. He is leading down a path that will take him…and those who follow him…into contact with suffering, rejection, and death. Jesus is walking this path that leads to salvation even for the lowest-of-the-lowly; a path that sets its course toward heavenly things which sometimes fly in the face of human pride, and which may present a human cost.
As vulnerable and authentic leaders know: following requires faith, trust, and authenticity. Following faithfully means that we share a common vision with the one who is leading, and that shared vision keeps us moving forward together even when there is loss and pain. We keep following because we are moving toward something worth all of that cost. People need to know who they are following, and where the path is leading. This Gospel isn’t a warning; it’s the authentic invitation of a vulnerable leader, offering full transparency to those who will join on the journey. Take up your cross, deny yourself, follow me.
This week, we’ll walk this Lenten path together with Jesus on this journey toward divine things, not human things. Our theme this week considers what it means to follow.