I don’t know exactly how many times in the four Gospel accounts of the New Testament Jesus asks other people to follow him. But it’s well more than 20. The whole question of “Who is willing to follow Jesus Christ?” is pretty much the defining question of Christianity.
Some may ask it personally of you : “You mean you believe all of this stuff about forgiveness, and loving enemies, and this resurrection from the dead?” However it’s worded, the whole matter of following Jesus is central to living the Christian faith.
The question becomes, “What does it actually mean to follow Jesus, especially in modern times, or in middle- or upper-middle class North America?” If you’re going to take the words of Jesus seriously – those ones about “losing your life for his sake” and “denying yourself” – well, what’s your life going to look like?
What does it mean to follow Jesus in your life, and in these times? In our Gospel, Peter recoils at Jesus’ revelation that as “the Christ” he must “suffer greatly…be rejected…be killed, and rise after three days.” Peter is so aghast at the words of Jesus about suffering and death that he fails to hear the most important part of the revelation about who Jesus is and what he is to accomplish. He fails to grasp that through death Jesus will be raised to new life.
Today, Jesus asks us “Who do you say I am?” We may quickly answer, “You are the Christ.” However, we may hesitate when we hear Jesus say, “Take up your cross and follow me.” We must lose our life for the sake of others. this is the difficult lesson to be learned. We cannot avoid dying to self if we wish to rise to new life with Jesus.
How do we die to self? We must die to our way of thinking [taking the easy way of self-interest,] and embrace how God thinks [carrying the cross of goodness, justice, integrity]. Or we must empty ourselves for the good of another even when we are tired or frustrated or don’t like the other person in need.
On our own, living the paschal mystery would be just about impossible. Why we can embrace te dying is because Jesus has already shown us the way. The only way to follow Jesus is to die to self.