LIKE BECOMING KING LEAR
READ: Mark 8:34-35
“Then Jesus said to the people and His disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of Mine, let that person renounce himself or herself, take up their cross and follow Me. Anyone who wants to save his life or her life will lose it; but anyone who loses their life for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.'” – Mark 8:34-35
Such a well-known verse, so often quoted, yet … still rather stubbornly enigmatic to me as to exactly what it means. Oh, if we place this verse on the grave markers of the Christian martyrs, saints killed in the cause of the Gospel, the words, “take up your cross and follow Me,” seem obviously applied. But for the rest of us … we Christian disciples who live far less dramatic lives than the martyrs … what does it mean, “to lose one’s life for the sake of the Gospel so that one’s life might be saved”? Here Jesus clearly states that we must “renounce ourselves, take up the cross, and follow Him.” No qualifiers, no what if’s, this is just the way it must be!
No matter how I twist and turn the words of this passage, I reach the same, undeniable conclusion. In some way … we Christians must lose our “lives” in order to save our “life”. How is that lived out in our own, modern day lives, this dying to self in order to save oneself?
I have always loved the works of William Shakespeare, specifically his plays. If I had not been called to be a Pastor, I often thought I would have loved to have been Shakespearean actor. So in my retirement, an aspect of my daily schedule is the reading of a couple of scenes from Shakespeare. And when I say “reading”, I mean a dramatic reading, out loud, in full voice, here on the porch of my writer’s hermitage. More than once I have perplexed Barnabas the resident raven and Jazz the Abbey cat when they hear me try to give voice to the female characters in the plays. When I get lost in the elegant eloquence of Shakespeare, I imagine myself “walking the boards” on a Shakespearean stage. One time in my life I imagined myself playing Hamlet or Romeo, nowadays, jolly Falstaff or old, King Lear seem to be a more fitting casting for me. Well, anyway – the other day, in the campus newspaper I spotted a casting call for King Lear. And I thought … possibly my hour had finally come. So I pulled out my well-worn copy of The Tragedy of King Lear and took to reading it once more. I went even further in the pursuit of my pipe-dream, … I found videos of actors of the past playing the role of the aging King. As I watched, I was spellbound by the craftsmanship of such actors as John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, and Ian McKellen. As I carefully studied each of these actor’s interpretation, I was struck by how each of them “convinced” me that they indeed had become King Lear; yet … I was always aware of the actor’s own presence in the character they portrayed. Gielgud, Olivier, McKellen … they all “lost” themselves in the character of King Lear, but, at the very same time, in so doing, they gave their own voice to the character as well, somehow King Lear had become Gielgud or Olivier, or McKellen. Somehow two separate souls had blended into one.
Now … let me be clear … we are NOT to merely act the part of the Christian, we are to be Christians. Our Christian discipleship must be something sincere, honest, authentic. Yet, being a Christian does demand that in some measure – we lose ourselves in the character of Christ, in a certain way, we become as Christ, and when we lose ourselves in the person of Christ, we re-emerge as Christ’s coming to life once more in our own person. Somehow Christ and self become blended.
Loved ones, sadly, though quite understandably, most souls do not easily “lose” themselves in the character of Christ … we are reluctant to change, we are reluctant to “become”, we are reluctant to allow God’s Spirit to transform us, we are reluctant to die to our old selves so that we might be resurrected into our Christ-like selves. If you truly desire to be a Christian disciple, then you must study the words and ways of Christ until those words and ways become your own. Dare we make such an investment? If we are wise, we will.
Brother Anthony of the Cross