Monday, January 7

Spirituality of Descent

Whatever you might think about the movie A Knight's Tale, there is one scene that I find most profound. In it William meets the woman he loves, Jocelyn, in a cathedral and wants to know how he might prove his love for her.
William: Jocelyn, how may I prove my love to you? How?
Jocelyn: Do you ask in earnest?
William: Yes.
Jocelyn: If you would prove your should do your worst.
William: My worst? What do you mean?
Jocelyn: Instead of winning to honor me with your high reputation, I want you to act against your normal character and do badly.
William: Do badly?
Jocelyn: Lose. 
William: Losing does nothing except prove that I'm a loser!
Jocelyn: Wrong! Losing is a much keener test of your love. Losing would contradict your self-love. And losing would show your obedience to your lover and not to yourself...What is your answer?
William: I will not lose.
Jocelyn: Then you do not love me.
At first blush Jocelyn's request that William lose seems unreasonable. How could she ask such a thing. But upon further reflection, there is profound truth in it. As David Benner writes, "Christian spirituality is a spirituality of descent. It invites us to follow Jesus on a path of self-emptying surrender. The way of Christ is always the way of the cross. Good Friday always precedes Easter Sunday." (Opening to God)

Read: Matthew 16:24-26
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? 

What does Jesus ask of us? What does he desire? Is he building a kingdom of the best and brightest? Is he looking for a kingdom of movers and shakers? Do those who succeed in business or sports or whatever their interests may they have greater blessing than those who struggle or fail or barely make it?

In Matthew 16:24-26, Jesus seems to turn things upside-down. Those who would follow him must not seek to become powerful or successful or to somehow earn their way into the pantheon of faith, rather, they must deny themselves. They must be willing to take up their cross - die to self - and they must abandon their own path and their own desires and follow Jesus. 

The paradox is that the things the world says will bring life don't! And the things we think rob us of life are the very things that bring life. Jocelyn shows amazing insight into love. She recognizes that William loves himself and his reputation. He loves winning. And when those things are put up against his professed love for her, what will he do? If he refuses to lose for her sake, he shows he loves himself more. If he willingly gives up his reputation and his winning for her, he shows he truly loves her.

God asks something like that. He bids us come and die. He asks us to surrender our lives to him. He asks us to love him more than we love ourselves. He asks us to be willing to forgo our comfort or our reputation or our pursuit of stuff, power, possessions, whatever, to follow him. And he promises that if we will deny ourselves, die to ourselves, and follow him...what we will get will be so much more than what we gave up. 

- Read Matthew 16:24-26 again and then read the scene or watch it one more time.

Where does your heart resist the invitation to lose, to come and die? Reflect on what is challenging or where you resist? Why is it so difficult?

- Consider how Jesus himself, the King of kings and Lord of lords and the very God-man, was willing to humble himself by leaving his glory to take on flesh and to die the humiliating death on the cross for our sake. What does his willingness to prove his love by losing everything for you (and me) say to you? 

How will you respond to Jesus' invitation to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him? 

Is there anything specific you sense Jesus would have you give up or change? What will you do?

- The real cost of following Jesus is not measured in what we give up to follow, it's measured in what we lose if we don't follow! We can gain the whole world - everything this world says we should want - but lose our very souls...or we can lose this fickle and fleeting world and gain our heart's deepest desires...

What's the real bargain?

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