Week 8, Day 1, The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter Eight
Suffering is one of the most constant facts of the human condition. We will all encounter suffering in our lives and will all seek to deal with suffering in our own ways. Every spiritual teacher, guru, or leader must at some point come to terms with how we are to deal with suffering. Who do we turn to, what do we do, how should our attitude be?
Jesus is more than a magician. In this chapter we see Him making calculated steps towards distancing Himself from the teachings of the Pharisees and the Zealots (a group that wanted to overthrow Rome). He wasn't doing things their way. He wasn't their to clarify a rule book. He wasn't there to usher in a political revolution. Jesus was there to teach them, and us by proxy, how to live.
We each have some deep suffering in our lives. Whether it's an illness or grief or disappointment, we each have some burden we are carrying. Many people would try to tell us to put those burdens down, to blame them on someone else, or to find ways to not think about them. What Jesus says here is fascinating. He says to deny yourself. Some of us need to stop there with this command and ponder it deeply. What does it mean to deny ourselves?
Sometimes a fast or a cleanse is a good way to deny ourselves of temporal things. Sometimes it just means doing something for someone else, and thinking of ourselves less. It means to think of making life easier for others before you worry about yourself. Denying our selves runs completely counter to a culture of indulgence and comfort. We have an extremely hard time denying ourselves things that make us more comfortable, especially when we feel we have "earned" them.
Take up your cross
The problems in our lives--our suffering--are not to be avoided. We are not trying to put an end to suffering by forgetting about it when we come across it. Instead, Jesus says to take up our cross--to pick up the thing that makes us suffer and carry it with us. We are to go through our suffering.
Many counselors will tell you that avoiding your problems will never solve them. If we choose to deny the existence of our suffering, or to blame our mistakes on others, we will never grow through them. The only way to resolve conflict, suffering, or pain in our lives is to first deal with it head-on. We have to carry it for a while.
This is a remarkable statement. The image I chose for today's meditation is the way I picture this statement. We are carrying our crosses, but Jesus is carrying His too. He knows what we are going through and is sympathetic to us. We have a leader who knows how we feel. He's not telling us to do anything He hasn't already done. He is in front of us, always our example, carrying His burdens and ours.
In following Him, in denying our selves, and in taking up our crosses, we will find true life. Not "heaven" because that's not what He is talking about here, but real life right now. Our lives are better when used for others. Our lives are better when we deal with suffering in positive ways. Most importantly, our lives are better when we follow the example of Christ.