Daily Reflection
August 9th, 2002
Maureen McCann Waldron
Collaborative Ministry Office
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Nahum 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7
Deuteronomy 32:35-36, 39, 41
Matthew 16:24-28

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

Some time during the 1960s, wedding vows changed.  Instead of the traditional “Love, honor and obey” the words were changed to “Love, honor and cherish.”  By the time I got married in 1975, no one who had any self-respect (we thought) used the word obey. It was shackled with images of domination, slavery and non-equal partnerships. 

A few years ago, I heard a Jesuit priest mourn the passing of the word obey from the wedding vows, saying the original meaning of obey was “to put the needs of another ahead of my own.”  I was overwhelmed. What a perfect description of what we are called to do in marriage – put the needs of another ahead of our own.  And how difficult!

It seems to be exactly what Jesus is asking of us in today’s gospel: deny ourselves.  Can there be anything more difficult?  We are born as selfish creatures, crying out for someone to take care of our needs.  The process of growing in this life seems to be learning how to become less selfish, less self-absorbed.  On our good days we can do that, by loving, giving and caring for others before thinking of ourselves.  But on our bad days, we look at our spouses and others and grumble about the unfairness: “Why is it always ME who has to do the giving?  Why doesn’t my spouse have to care about ME first?  Am I always the one who has to apologize first? Ask about the other’s day first? When is it MY turn to be taken care of?”

It is in that moment of self-absorption and self-pity that we are being called more deeply into Jesus’ love.  We must die to our own needs and our own longing in order to find a new life in Jesus. In a profound way, we are being called to the simplest task: to care about other people before we take care of ourselves.  What kind of people would we be if we got everything we wanted?  If we never had to move outside of our own needs and desires?  Jesus asks us: What good is it for us to get everything we wanted, if in the process we lose our very selves?

Today’s gospel invites us to be more giving, to fight our human nature that has us focused on our own needs.  We are asked to stop keeping score with the ones we love and to put their needs ahead of our own.  It is then, Jesus promises, that by losing our lives for his sake, we will find real life.

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