top of page


Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’ Then to all he said: ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it. What gain, then, is it for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self?’  (Lk 9:22-25)
Jesus speaks to two distinct groups here, his close confidants and the general people. To the first he discloses his destiny in both its horror and its glory. Everything we flinch from, suffering, rejection and death. Being raised up is left unexplained. These are two hard contradictions, as in our own lives we find it hard to see disappointment and failure as a means to fulfilment. This cannot be how the God of reward and punishment we like to think of operates. So, we turn away from the narrow path to seek a more comfortable one. There’s nothing we value more than comfort.
Next, on the unwashed multitude, he bestows the uncomforting truth of radical renunciation as the way of living into this dilemma and turning the contradiction into a paradox. Paradoxes are portals into another worldview. To pass through them is metanoia. Paradoxes are not ideas but experiences, like the person you love dying and realising love still unites you. Or things falling apart with an almost absurd totality, one thing after another as they did for Job, and yet leading to an unpredictable wholeness.
Pema Chodron’s great work ‘When Things Fall Apart’ describes this. I was once at a conference with her when we were asked what led us into the monastic life. Her story could not have been bettered. She was working in the front yard of their suburban house one day when her husband drove in. He told her he was having an affair and was leaving her. She grabbed for the nearest thing to throw at his head which was a brick. Fortunately, she missed. From what she learned after this, she describes the way to deal with collapse and dissolution is not to deny or avoid but to plunge into them. Then loss, suffering, rejection and death reveal the portal that irresistibly invites you to pass through.
The ordinary people, the second group Jesus addresses in this gospel, knew him as a healer and a denouncer of corruption and injustice. Now they hear the hidden teaching made open: in the portal of transformation, where the material becomes transparent, we renounce not just possessions, not only the hurts and wounds we bear from life, but the victim, the craver and the possessor, the ego itself. To do so we may need immense love and support and patience. But he leaves us to conclude ‘what, actually, in the end, is the alternative?’
Meditation is the opening of the door.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2024
bottom of page