This evening at our mission at Immaculate Conception Parish in Irvington on the Hudson, I spoke about Jesus, the Teacher. I like Rembrandt’s drawing of Jesus preaching to a crowd. For one thing, the crowd around him seems to represent all ages, shapes and sizes of ordinary humanity. Jesus’ disciples, like Peter, James and John may be there, but they don’t seem to stand out. Maybe some of his enemies are there, but they don’t stand out either. They’re all there listening, except maybe the little child on the ground playing with something he’s found. And Jesus teaches them.
Did Rembrandt find these faces in the people of his neighborhood, ordinary people? If that’s so, this crowd could be us.
Luke’s gospel seems a lot like this painting to me. In much of Luke’s gospel Jesus makes his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, and as he goes his way he calls everybody to follow him. Some women from Galilee follow him. He calls Zachaeus, the tax collector, down from a tree to join him. Follow me, he says to a blind man begging in the same place for years. He called people in every shape and form, sinners, tax-collectors, everyone.
It was not just to see him die that he calls them to follow him, but to go with him onto glory. “Come with me this day to paradise, “ Jesus says to the thief on the cross. Our creed says he descends into hell, which means he goes to those who have been waiting for centuries for the redemption he brings. He calls to all, to them and to us, to follow him.
Following Jesus to glory also means taking up our cross each day. Listen to Luke’s gospel: “Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily *and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’” ( Luke 9, 23-24 )
Listen carefully to what Jesus says. He speaks to “all”. Everyone in this world has a challenge to take up and a burden to bear. Jesus also says, “take up your cross.” It’s a cross that’s distinctly ours. It’s not the same cross that Jesus bore; it’s the cross we bear. “Do you want to see the cross? Hold out your arms; there it is.” (Wisdom of the Desert)
He blesses us from his cross. He gives us strength to bear what we have to bear and to carry out the mission he gives us.
Besides taking up our cross each day, Jesus says also to become like little children to enter into his glory. Often in the gospel, Jesus points to children when his own disciples try to lord it over other people. Listen again to St. Luke:
“An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.” Luke 9, 46-48
One of the saints describes this teaching very well. Jesus doesn’t tell us to go back to being children physically. We can’t do that. This is what it means to be children. “To be free from crippling anxieties, to be forgetful of injuries, to be sociable, and to stand in wonder before all things.” (St. Leo the Great)
There’s great wisdom in Jesus’ teaching on spiritual childhood. No matter how old or young we are, we’re called to become like children. Rembrandt instinctively has a child prominently in his drawing of Jesus preaching to the crowd. Jesus opens his hands as he preaches. Can we see him teaching them they must bear their cross?