He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. (Mark 7:34-35)
As Jesus often does, the private conversation gives way to summoning the crowd and the offer of a larger, summary teaching. Earlier (v.33) when Jesus accuses Peter of “thinking” (phreneo) there is an indication of not simply cognitive thought, but something arising from an inner disposition or attitude – something pointing to the role of the human will. This become more clear in the phrase (v.34), “Whoever wishes” – pointing to the idea of human will and freedom of carrying out that will. What is the role of the will in the practical implications of discipleship: deny oneself, take up your own cross, and follow Jesus.
Stoffregen nicely asks: “What does it mean to deny oneself — to say “No’ to oneself? Some of us may be able to deny ourselves certain foods for a time — so that we might look and feel better; but we aren’t really denying ourselves. We are still dieting for the good of self. Can we deny our thoughts of getting good things for ourselves? or of evil for our “enemies? Can we stop our lusting after people and things? or feelings of revenge towards those who have wronged us? … Denying one’s self is concerned with the will — that one’s own will should not be the controlling factor in one’s life.”
As many theologians and spiritual advisors have noted, these things Stoffregen lists, come to our minds whether we summons them or not. Such is the condition of the world in which we live – we are awash in the seas of temptation. But temptation is not action. If there is a desire for revenge because of a perceived wrong, there is a choice to be made and a role for the will to play. The French theologian, Maurice Blondell, opined that in the moments we most want revenge, but choose to turn the other cheek, it is in that moment we are the most Christian because we have denied our self and chosen God’s will. There is a cross that is borne as we follow Christ.