Mark 8: 27-38
The ‘Fall of Freddie the Leaf’ is a children’s book written by Dr. Leo Buscaglia, a well known author about life and love. It is one of the most sensitive and beautiful books about dying, death and ultimately life. Freddie is a leaf on a tree in a park, his best friend is Daniel, another leaf. Daniel is very wise and explains to Freddie that he is part of a tree and the tree has roots and they are in a park full of trees, just like them.
The story captures, through Daniel’s wise words and instruction, the essence of life throughout the seasons. The newness of spring, the fullness and abundance of summer, the vibrancy yet the letting go of autumn into the chill of winter. Freddie is not ready to let go, he’s afraid even though his friends eventually leave the tree because of a gust of wind at just the right time.
Finally a large wind knocks Freddie around and he finds himself gently gliding to the ground. His death is complete – only to begin the cycle of life once again. It’s quite a beautiful story. When I read it to my children, after my mother’s death, hardly a page turned that I didn’t find myself with a very large lump in my throat. I didn’t want to let go of my mother but I knew that she was free from her human suffering and I was left to put back together my life within the reality of her death. I learned a lot in the valley of the shadow of death, mostly how to order and live out my life.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Mark to come to terms with our lives and our death and when we do we are saved. We are free. When we take up our crosses we are ready to become disciples and live. Sounds like an oxymoron to me, but understanding that life really is finite gives us abundant opportunity to make the most out of each day, to practice forgiveness, to love and to cherish. So grab your cross before it is too late.
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35)
Jesus is now back in his own familiar land, not in Gentile territory but in the Northern Galilee in a town called Caesarea Philippi. Having to travel by foot, or perhaps riding a donkey took time and we see that Jesus uses his travel time wisely as he and his disciples traverse the hilly countryside of the Galil. There’s lots of time for talk.
He asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” Looks like he knows that people are talking about him to his disciples. Often that’s the case. It’s easier to talk with someone else about a particular person’s issue rather than openly and directly to that person’s face. He was right. “Well”, the disciples say, ‘some call you John the Baptist, some say Elijah the prophet” who is to usher in the messianic age according to Jewish understanding’.
Jesus pondered this as they walked further and then he asks more pointedly, “Who do you say that I am?” After all, they are his hand-chosen inner circle who dropped their fishing nets and left their families to be with him 24-7.
Peter, quick with an answer Peter, says boldly, “You are the Messiah! The Christ! The Anointed One!’ Honestly, I don’t think he had even one clue of what he said and just what Jesus as the Messiah really meant. At least he had an answer though which was the correct answer.
And they continue walking. Jesus delves more deeply into the coming events of his life. He relays to the disciples his suffering and subsequent rejection by the chief priests and elders. He talks openly about his death and his resurrection.
Peter, quick with an answer Peter, really didn’t want to hear any or all of this… ‘TMI’ as they say, too much information. He rebukes Jesus. But turnaround is fair play, particularly with Jesus. Jesus rebukes Peter and one ups him, get back Satan!
Then Jesus gets down to the nitty-gritty of discipleship or following him. You want to follow me? Jesus asks. Deny yourself, rather get out of your own way. You really want to follow me? Jesus asks. Then take up your cross, pick up the instrument that can ultimately kill you, which will bring about your death, embrace it then follow me. Embracing death will ultimately bring about the true nature of life, your life and you only have one.
For Peter, death is the question. For Jesus, death is the answer.
In his sermon Shattered Dreams (Strength to Love), Martin Luther King Jr. says, “The cross, which was willed by wicked men, was woven by God into the tapestry of world redemption.” When we live into Jesus’ death and resurrection we are given the great gift of forgiveness and liberation from the murky waters of our lives. We are redeemed for a higher purpose. It is beyond our own human understanding to know how God loves us unconditionally but that’s what happens, and God does. Christ’s death gives us life because we see anew the promise of resurrection. Are you willing to follow Jesus to where he is going?
No one wants to talk about death yet it is those darkest times in life that are most poignant and harbor the greatest potential for us. They tell us who we are, and whose we are. Jesus is not so much talking about the finality of your breathing days but of letting go of things that daily inhibit you from achieving your fullest human potential.
It means to relinquish fear that keeps you immobilized in the sink-holes of life’s desert. It means to reject the bright lights of distraction that blind you for a simpler, more meaningful existence. Death, and all of its sad and ugly realities, is what ultimately gives meaning to life. When we live into death…then we gain everything humanly imaginable.
We gain life and all of its beautiful possibilities. We grow and expand our capacity for loving. We achieve an awareness of the finiteness of our existence and infinite expanse of this universe and our given place in it. Each day is an opportunity to receive God’s grace in all that we do, with each word that we speak, in each individual that we encounter. Won’t you follow Jesus to where he is going so that your life is the best that it can be?
For Freddie the Leaf letting go was his greatest fear. Daniel walked ‘hand in hand’ with Freddie as he opened his eyes to acceptance and the beauty of life around him. It was when Freddie let go that he got a true glimpse of the abundant life around him and his place in the park.
Jesus said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.” (Mk 8:35) “Come, take up your cross, follow me.” (Mk 8:34).