Friends, our Gospel today lays out Jesus’ conditions for discipleship. For all of us sinners, to varying degrees, our own lives have become god. That is to say, we see the universe turning around our ego, our needs, our projects, our plans, and our likes and dislikes. True conversion—the metanoia that Jesus talks about—is so much more than moral reform, though it includes that. It has to do with a complete shift in consciousness, a whole new way of looking at one’s life.
Jesus offered a teaching that must have been gut-wrenching to his first-century audience: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” His listeners knew what the cross meant: a death in utter agony, nakedness, and humiliation. They didn’t think of the cross automatically in religious terms, as we do. They knew it in all of its awful power.
Unless you crucify your ego, you cannot be my follower, Jesus says. This move—this terrible move—has to be the foundation of the spiritual life.