And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As those who know how the story of the Gospel ends -- who know that the tomb is empty -- the season of Lent could seem unnecessary, perhaps even like a distraction from the grand finale. So, it’s worth asking why we have to rewind the tape and go through Lent every year?
Well, a big reason is that both we and the disciples alike need to be taught “that the Son of man must suffer many things.” This suggests that the fact that our Lord would undergo great suffering, even unto death on the cross, was not self-evident to really anyone. Not the disciples, not the crowds, and if we set aside the fact that we know how the story ends, not even us. Suffering does not seem like a fitting experience for the Son of God incarnate to have, because, frankly, we don’t consider suffering to be a fitting experience for anyone to have. It’s only natural that we and every other creature with physical senses is instinctively inclined to avoid suffering. It would thus be more than understandable for the disciples to assume that Christ would not only evade suffering himself, but eradicate it from the lives of those who followed him.
But Lent is the season in which we discover, again for the first time, the inevitability of our Lord’s suffering and death. We don’t get to Easter without going through Lent, just as Jesus doesn’t rise again until he first suffers and is rejected and killed. Lent is the season in which the days draw near for Jesus to be received up and he sets his face to go to Jerusalem, as Luke’s Gospel puts it (Luke 9:51). And our Lord knows that the days are drawing near for himself before his disciples do. In their expectations, the cross is not on the schedule. The very suggestion seems preposterous, offensive, even if Jesus himself is the one making it. It’s why St. Peter in one his characteristic errors takes him aside to rebuke him for daring to say such a thing. Again, the suffering of Christ is not something that we would be inclined to expect.
But our Lord says all of this “plainly,” according to Mark’s Gospel. His teaching that the Son of man must suffer and die before rising again is supposed to speak for itself. It perhaps shouldn’t even come as much of a surprise to the disciples. Christ’s stern rebuke of Peter suggests that Peter’s inability or refusal to accept this fact is inexcusable; it’s not just an innocent misunderstanding on Peter’s part, but rather represents yet another temptation meant to thwart Jesus from pursuing his mission: “Get behind me, Satan!”
Recall that the theme of all three temptations that Jesus withstood in the wilderness, as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, was Satan’s promise that he could escape suffering if only he would “fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9). Which is why Peter’s rebuke of Jesus echoes Satan’s temptations: both of them attempt to “rescue” Jesus from the inevitable consequences of his perfect obedience to the will of the Father. But the trajectory is set: “the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
But why was the suffering and death of Christ inevitable? Many of us are probably familiar with the various Christian doctrines that claim that Christ’s suffering and death were necessary, but it’s entirely possible for something to be necessary without being inevitable. It could have been the case that Jesus needed to suffer and die to fulfill a particular purpose -- say, our atonement, etc. -- but if it wasn’t inevitable that he do so, then he himself or God the Father or somebody else would have had to intervene in order to make it happen. And in fact, I would say that there are certain theological accounts of Christ’s death that suggest precisely this. But the unspoken assumption here is that there was nothing about Christ’s life in itself that would have guaranteed his death on the cross -- which is why someone else is needed to step in and make it happen.
But, of course, our Lord does makes it quite clear that his suffering and death were inevitable. So, what are we to make of this inevitability? First, it’s vitally important for us to understand that the entirety of Christ’s life on earth -- from his conception and birth to his ministry and finally to his death and resurrection -- is a complete revelation. All of the events cohere in a single whole. Which means that no particular aspect of Christ’s life was arbitrary. From start to finish, our Lord had a single mission -- a mission of perfect obedience to the Father -- that he performed without wavering. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). But this mission of obedience was one that he performed as a human being and thus one could say that it “was simply the mission of being human” . And, having completed his mission, we rightly praise our Lord for “being the first really human being” . Christ becomes the standard, the profile, the example of what a human being really is; when we confess in the Creed that Christ was fully human, we don’t just mean that he was just as human as we are, but moreover that he was more human than we are. And it makes our world less than a fully human world.
As Herbert McCabe puts it:
This is no world for love. There is a twist or contradiction in our human life that means we build a world unfit for humans. The only way to get by in it is to restrict your humanity rather carefully, otherwise you will get hurt. 
What he means here is that our world is a world of sin because it is a world of compromise. We build up all manner of structures and systems in order to protect ourselves from the fear of love. Power and domination are much more reliable and reassuring, or so we think. But the contradiction is that while we do our best to live in this world that we have made -- perhaps even deluding ourselves into thinking that the lives we live in this world are the best -- this world remains one that is “unfit for humans” because it is unfit for love. And it’s this world that Jesus is born into and carries out his mission.
But what do you think happens when the love of God incarnate -- the one who is the most fully human being ever to live -- enters into a world unfit for love and unfit for humans? A conflict is bound to happen sooner or later. A world such as ours will be threatened by a person such as Christ. His love will challenge all of the carefully constructed compromises we’ve built into the world. And we all have vested interests in keeping it that way. As McCabe continues, “we live in a world that cannot afford too much humanity, too much love” . And so when Christ comes around, we have to do whatever it takes to protect ourselves from him, even and perhaps especially if it means killing him. “Jesus died of being human,” says McCabe, “he was so human that he had to be killed” . Christ’s suffering and death were inevitable simply because of who he was: it’s the Son of man who must suffer many things. To be Christ in our world is to be killed for it. It was inevitable.
This leads us to the second section of Christ’s teaching for us today.
And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
If Christ is fully human, that makes us less than fully human, to the extent that we are not yet fully conformed to Christ. Of course, by the grace of God, the process of our conformity to Christ has already begun. But this process towards our full humanity in Christ will subject us to the same inevitable fate as Christ. Jesus denied the world and was crucified for it; we who follow Jesus must deny ourselves and take up our crosses for it. What Jesus is saying, to quote McCabe again, is that “crucifixion in some way is the destiny of every Christian” , “for the only way to God is in Christ, and Christ’s way to God was through crucifixion and death to the resurrection” . “We have to go through crucifixion too,”  therefore; “for whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
Lent gives us a unique opportunity each year to deny ourselves and take up our cross. It’s the season in which “we make a special drama of our ordinary lives, a drama of death and resurrection” . Lent “reminds us that we come through death to life, through denial of selves to our true selves” . All of the practices of this season are imposed for this purpose. Fasting weans us from our excessive dependence on the things of this world -- specifically food; it’s one way that we renounce our desperate attempts to save our lives instead of losing them. Almsgiving likewise proceeds from our death to self, because dying to self is what enables us to live for others ; we give to the poor out of the life we have renounced for ourselves. And finally, confession is perhaps the practice that makes this most vivid, for it is a sacrament. To confess our sins with contrition before the mercy of God is to acquaint ourselves with Jesus’ grief; it is to share in his sorrow. And penance is our participation in the many things that he suffered. Together, these Lenten practices are all a practice of death, but not just any death, but a death like Christ’s, which is a death that conquers death in resurrection . “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” To lose one’s life in conformity with Christ is to have one’s death transfigured by God into life. It’s how we become fully alive and fully human, as those who follow the Son of man who suffered many things and was rejected and killed before rising again.
 Herbert McCabe. God, Christ and Us. 66.
 Ibid., 66.
 Herbert McCabe. God Still Matters. 96-97.
 Ibid., 97.
 Ibid., 96.
 Ibid., 101.
 Ibid., 101.
 Ibid., 101.
 Herbert McCabe. God, Christ and Us. 77.
 Herbert McCabe. God Still Matters. 225.
 Herbert McCabe. God, Christ and Us. 77.
 Herbert McCabe. God Still Matters. 101.