August 30: Heavy-lifting! (22 A)

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:21-27.

We listen to Jesus’s challenging words about the cross and how “he who wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for the Lord’s sake will find it.” This passage of Matthew’s Gospel comes just after Jesus entrusts his band of followers with the “keys of the kingdom.”

What a striking contrast between the keys that open doors to salvation, and the task. That is the cross or burden that we carry in his name. Both are very much linked. Here’s a parallel.

A friend of mine is considering a move back to California from Boston. Besides the issue of either renting an apartment or the expense of buying a new home, comes an added factor: his treasured Yamaha Grand piano.

My friend Frank is a jazz pianist and currently writing a book about Ellis Marsalis, the New Orleans musician who is often called the “father of the first family of jazz.” Now jazz is not the issue, instead the careful moving Frank’s piano is a significant concern.

A Yamaha Grand piano can weigh anywhere from 750 to 1,500 pounds. To successfully move a piano, you need experienced movers, a dolly for balance, and a strategy for the egress (out) and ingress (in) such a heavy load. Also, you need to consider the room’s size, the surrounding acoustics, and the construction of the floor to accommodate such a heavy instrument.

Typically, playing piano implies a solo performance, while the delicate act of moving a piano takes teamwork. When our burdens or crosses trouble us like the weight of a Grand piano, we too have to size up the situation, take perspective, try our best to keep our balance, often requiring personal adjustments. No matter how heavy our crosses, this may be the moment to call on Jesus Christ.

Unlike playing piano, following Christ is not a solo act. Instead, we must draw on a community of believers. As cross-bearers, the gospel shows us that we are all journeying with the same Lord.

Consider our burdens at this very moment, and here I mean those severe challenges to health and safety. There are so many examples of bravery and resilience — our students and teachers are meeting the challenge of a new school year. Health care workers are on the job day after day, keeping us safe from COVID-19. And our courageous firefighters and rescue workers are struggling against those relentless and deadly forces of nature beyond our control.

Systemic social problems continue to weigh down on our society – issues of fairness, justice, poverty, and race, or that crisis you cannot escape.

These are crosses that challenge us enormously – and call for great courage, careful thinking, and may become the very cause for your study of epidemiology or immigration law, special education, or social work. Your future career and vocational choice could be made at the gospel’s service and spark the chance to spiritualize the world.

So, here we are. Jesus’s questions compel us to consider taking up the cross, yes, that cross demands heavy-lifting. He asks: “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

We have a choice. Do I carry the cross? Or do we lift this cross in a fellowship of cross-bearers: sisters and brothers, all following the one who knows the way home. “Come, follow me,” he says.

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

Here we honor jazz legend Ellis Marsalis (1934-2020). His memory and his music are blessings!


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