The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30
Today’s reading is given to us to mark or celebrate All Saints day. For Western Christians this day falls on November 1st. That is why October 31st is called All Hallows Eve (Halloween). For us as Orthodox Christians, in our yearly cycle it only makes sense that All Saints day should follow after Pentecost, because without the Holy Spirit there can be no Holy people.
In today’s gospel we hear the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ and we are challenged to understand what it takes to become a saint. Mother Theresa of Calcutta quotes St. Thomas Aquinas as saying “becoming a saint is very easy, all one has to do is want to become a saint.” With due respect to Aquinas, this statement is only partly true. Wanting to become a saint is not enough to make you one. There is something that Jesus mentions here that is the real key to becoming a saint… “He who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”
We have spent time in the past talking about taking up our cross but this is really the most important thing we have to learn as people of God. For us the cross is EVERYTHING. St. Paul writes in 1 Cor 2:2 “ For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Please notice that his focus is not on the risen Lord, but the crucified one.
So we return again to this verse “He who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” Sometimes we casually talk about bearing a cross, or having our crosses to bear. We speak in this way but the truth is that the moment we are faced with real trouble, real pain, real suffering…..we blame everyone around us or we desperately look for ways out of our pain. We are part of a larger society that largely avoids suffering and pain of any kind. I don’t want pain in childbirth, give me an injection. I don’t like the attitude of my child, give him a pill. I don’t like my marriage, better get a divorce. I’m not happy with how I look, better get plastic surgery. I don’t like the teachings of Christ, better become “spiritual but not religious”.
In all of these scenarios we see that when pain or the threat of pain hits, our character comes to light. Think about that for a moment…Who is our role model in life? If the answer is anyone other than Jesus Christ then we have to seriously ask whether we are actually Christians. But let’s assume that your role model is Christ and then you will notice something. The Lord Jesus doesn’t avoid suffering. Our Lord doesn’t run away from pain. He does the opposite even when others like Peter try to steer Him in another direction. He sees His cross and instead of fleeing, He attaches Himself to it completely. Why go through all of this? He is God, the maker of heaven and earth and yet He willfully attaches Himself to the cross, willfully allows Himself to be betrayed and beaten and mocked and spit on. Why?
There was no other way for God to save us. The Lord loved us so much that He experienced everything that it means to be human and not just any human, the worst human experience one can imagine, the experience of the innocent, suffering victim. When God wanted to teach us about love He showed us His Son upon a cross. It is the opposite of selfishness, the opposite of “success” as we understand it. The cross is the sign that God has given everything possible including His life, for those He loves. Could anything less be expected of us?
In order for us to be saints (please understand that this is why we were created), we have to enter into the place of Jesus upon the cross. When we decide to stand firm and go through trials and tribulations instead of around them or away from them….then we’re able to make our crosses bear fruit. So often people will struggle with one thing or another and in the middle of that struggle they simply give up. They feel like they’re suffering has no meaning. They think that this will relieve the pain, but that is a temporary solution. We haven’t prayed through the storm or asked for strength to bear the cross, we’ve prayed that God would remove it from our lives. We haven’t waited for the storm to clear, so we won’t see the sun. We haven’t stayed with our crosses so we can’t see what God is planning through this cross.
The Lord teaches us that suffering will have meaning if we see our cross as part of our necessary Christian experience, as an act of love. St. Paul speaks of “Putting on Christ” and that doesn’t mean putting on the resurrected Christ alone. It means putting on the whole of Christ! This brings us more than suffering, it brings us joy to know that Jesus Christ understands our suffering. It brings us gladness to know that the life of Jesus Christ is offered to each of us, that we each can be part of this cross within our families, within our towns and in our places of work.
We make the sign of the cross many times every day. We proclaim the cross and rejoice in the cross. Now we are asked to do the same with our own cross….this is what will make us truly saints. Glory be to God forever AMEN.