Zec 12:10-11; 13:1 / Gal 3:26-29 / Lk 9:18-24
A traveler was stopped by an airport customs officer and was asked if he had anything to declare. “Not a thing,” he answered.
“Are you sure?” asked the officer.
“Well, what about that elephant standing behind you with a slice of bread in each ear?”
“Sir,” said the traveler indignantly, “what I put in my sandwiches is my own business!”
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That fellow knew how to think big! And that is what Jesus is urging us to do. But He says it in a way that requires some close listening. “Deny yourself,” He says. “Take up your cross each day and follow Me.”
Somehow that doesn’t sound like a recipe for a big, happy life — unless you’re really into suffering! But it’s Jesus speaking, so let’s see if we can make sense of it.
If you want to be happy, Jesus says, “Take up your cross.” Now as everyone in Jesus’ day understood, “cross” means simply “the true work of the day,” which is the opposite of busy work or just hanging around.
And how do we know what the true work of the day is? Our gifts tell us, our circumstances tell us. And the Spirit speaks the word directly to our hearts. If we are listening, we will know each day what our true work is, and our joy will come from doing it.
If you want to be happy, Jesus says, “take up your cross.” Don’t run away from your life’s work or from the true work of the day. Run toward it. Engage it. Give your whole self to it — as Jesus did.
Living that way has its price, of course, and sometimes, as with Jesus, the price is very high. But the spirit to whom we’ve given the direction of our life will give us what we need as we need it. The alternative, running away from our life’s work and betraying our gifts, will in the end bring only pain upon pain. That is no alternative at all!
If you want to be happy, Jesus says, “deny yourself,” that is, forget yourself. Stop being the pawn of your own fragile ego.
Listen to the self-centered fears the ego uses to betray us: Will they hate me? Will I fall on my face? Will someone else get all the credit? Will the cost be too great? Will it hurt too much? Will I win? Lose? How can I be sure?
Ego’s self-absorbed fears lock us up inside ourselves and cut us off from the true work of our life, cut us off from happiness.
That is what Jesus is trying to help us see: “If you give in to fear and try to save your life by clinging to every piece of it tightly, you’ll just lose it all.”
Jesus’ advice is, relax in the Lord. Forget yourself and your fears. Hand over your life to the Holy Spirit inside you. And then, with the freedom and energy that only the Spirit can give, spend your life — every last drop of it — spend your life on the good work our Father has given you.
Happiness will follow as surely as day follows night.
Happiness will follow.