“If one wants to come after Me…” (Read Mark 8: 34–38)
The Word/seed (cf. Mark 4: 1ff), sown in mission, becomes bread in the Eucharist. It is in the bread, in the concrete life, that we recognize Jesus: “They recognized Him at the breaking of bread” (Luke 24: 25). Peter also recognized Jesus after the section about the bread; but in the wrong way, and Jesus called him “Satan” (Mark 8: 31–33)! Peter must understand that Jesus is the Messiah not because he gives bread but because he makes himself bread: He doesn’t give people something to eat, He Himself is eaten.
His identity is not the one that all people would like it to be. He has to take away the devilish character from the thoughts of people, so that their thoughts may be those that belong to God. Jesus is not a rich, powerful, domineering Messiah, but a poor Christ, humble and ready to serve. He overcomes evil with good, egoism with love: He triumphs over death giving us life (Mark 8: 31–33).
After saying that He is the bread of life, Jesus says that by means of the Bread that the disciple eats, he is assimilated to Him, the Christ, associated with His mystery of suffering and glory. After the first three calls (to “follow” Jesus in order to “be with Him” and to be “sent” to the brethren), now there is the fourth call: to be “like him,” witnesses of love, with a life that is transfigured by listening to the Son (cf. Mark 9: 1–7).
“If one wants”: Jesus asks for an act of sovereign, free-from-all-conditioning will. His proposal is for everybody, crowds and disciples. He exposes His programme, not in four volumes of catechism, but in four short sentences. The first is the invitation to “come after him.” It is what He has just told Peter: he must go, not in front, but behind Him, making the very same choices and doing the very same journey. The second is: “deny yourself!” Whereas egoism puts itself at the centre, love places the other at the centre of the self.
We must fight against the false self—full of fears, always defensive and ready to attack—in order to free the true self, capable of welcoming and loving. The third is: “take up your cross.” Everyone has a cross that is his and nobody else’s: it is his egoism that stops him from finding fulfilment in love. Whoever refuses to assume on himself the responsibility of his own sinfulness, will always unload it on others, in this way making it always bigger. It is a burden, a “daily” burden (Luke 9: 23), that weighs on his shoulders. If one does not train oneself to carry it, one will be crushed by it. In this labour that progressively frees one from evil, one is not alone. “Let him follow Me!” is Jesus’ fourth proposal: in front of us there is the trailblazer. I can carry this cross because it is Jesus who dies on it, not me. He has loved me and given Himself up for me (Gal 2: 20).
Jesus calls us to a love decision and unveils the foolishness of the contrary proposal: egoism destroys our existence. Every one of us wants to “save one’s life”: it is the reason for all our actions. But I can save my life only if I give it up. life is love. I can save it only if I give it up. It is like breathing: if I stop it, I lose it and I die. Egoism is an illusion: if I want to save myself, I kill life in me. The way to salvation is not the accumulation of goods aimed at warranting the quality of my life but sharing and solidarity. What is the use of worrying myself in order to possess the entire world if, in doing that, I destroy my own life and that of others?
A famous Russian short story shows “how much land is enough for a person.” It tells of a landowner who offered a servant as much land as he would be able to circle with one day’s walk. The servant made the circle bigger and bigger by running as fast as he could. When evening came, he fell dead on the circle he had completed and there he was buried. Our greed for possessions kills not only us but others as well.
Life is not a possession but a gift: I am not what I possess but what I give away. Jesus makes His proposal to us in order to save us. If we listen to these words here and now, we become what we are: children, similar to Him, brothers and sisters of all. If we do not listen to them, we throw our life away as it depends on our relationship with ourselves and with others, mediated by the way in which we make use of the things of this world. (Illustration: Luis Henrique Alves Pinto) – (Fr. Silvano Fausti)