“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” But first, let’s start with the first reading. It is the tale of “the suffering servant” from Isaiah. It tells of a servant who goes through many hardships, but who is victorious in their plight. The conclusion ultimately is an era of peace, and that peace is a true peace as described by the word Shalom. Though suffering, the servant does reap a reward. The servant is vindicated, the servant is right, they are just. Christians view this suffering servant as Jesus, He is that prophesy fulfilled. The passage is often read throughout Lent, it takes on a particular relevance during the passion of our Lord. Though the servant suffers, the servant is also “true.”
That concept of truth becomes apparent in the second reading, the letter from James where he discusses faith and works. It is not enough to say something if you do not follow through. It is not truthful to wish someone a good day, when you know for certain they are suffering. If one is to wish someone cold and hungry “a good day”, one should also provide some means for them to achieve that result. A coat, a shelter, some food, some employment, or some resolution to their misfortune. Your speech should be truthful, but who wants to hear the Truth? Jesus is the way, the Truth, and the light. Jesus brought about the Truth. Take up your cross and follow me. Truth had consequences (an old TV show), it goes against a lie; and many profit through deceit. The suffering servant takes up the challenge, they bear the cross and they stay loyal to truth. Jesus had a passion for the truth, and that truth is the truth of His father. Truth then can be seen as loyalty, loyalty to God. Take up your cross, it is to stand for something.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells Peter “Get behind me satin.” When Jesus tells of the suffering He is about to endure, Peter does not understand. Few leaders of that day suffered and died, hey brought pain and suffering on others. For Peter to stand in the way of Christs suffering would be to obstruct the truth. For truth to overcome a lie, the lie must be confronted. The victory requires a defeat. For Christ to reign, Satin must be defeated. Battles are never easy, and so the servant suffers. In Jesus’s dialogue with His disciples, He tells them of what He is about to endure. They are introduced to the Passion of the LORD, and they approach it with disbelief. They rebel, but then are instructed. Think of that passion in terms of Isaiah’s prophesy. That servant, though continually beaten, never gives up. To Jewish readers that servant is seen as Israel, to them it is the story of their history. I wonder who Jesus saw that servant as. One thought might be that He read that prophesy in the light of God’s Chosen People, He might have inspired them to become a suffering servant triumphant. He asked that they pick up their cross and follow his path towards the kingdom. But then again, He also might have taught many who follow the way to be the suffering servant. To pick up the cross is to become Christ-like, to be as that servant.
The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.
Who disputes my right?
Let that man confront me.
See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?
Now, I must switch the discussion back to truth. More accurately I return to truth and lies. Truth and lies or good and evil, or perhaps life and death. Truth does not die, it lives. A truthful path brings one to life, the way and truth and life. Truth survives even death, it is resurrected as the truthful servant is ultimately victorious. The truth of Christ still lives today. Today Christian truth still faces obstacles, and to many it is despised. Today it suffers, but this writer is confident it will survive. Christianity is fundamentally rooted in the truth, and truth is tenacious. The servant suffers, but cannot be conquered. The way, the Truth, and the light. To pick up a cross and follow Him is to march toward victory. Bruised, beaten, battered, reviled, and victorious. It is to live, and that is the truth.