These are among Jesus' hardest words. It is not easy to be easy to be a disciple. Nor is discipleship for the faint of heart. Being a true follower of Jesus means to know hardship and suffering. It means putting our own desires and ambitions aside for the good of others.
Jesus' teaching is part of the Caesarea Philippi sojourn. He is taking time away with the disciples. Jerusalem and Holy Week are growing ever nearer. So Jesus begins to prepare them for the time when He must leave them. It starts with teaching them about the fate that awaits Him and what it means to be a true follower.
You have to love Peter. This bold, speaks-his-mind disciple speaks for us. "Bad things cannot happen to you, Jesus." "Surely not that, not suffering and death. Not pain and hardship, Teacher." We would much rather take it easy. We would rather sing "I surrender some" instead of "I surrender all" or "Take my life, but let me be" instead of "Take my life, and let me be."
Jesus' words challenge us to take our discipleship seriously. As I am fond of saying, following Jesus is not a spectator sport. Following Jesus is not about this one hour on Sunday, sitting in a pew. Following Jesus is about the other 167 hours a week where we put our faith in action.
This may mean going into places we've rather drop dead than be seen in to help teach others better reading skills. Perhaps it means braving the hospital or nursing home to visit a friend who is lonely and could use some company. Maybe it means taking a job far away from family or losing out on a job because of your beliefs.
No, following Jesus is not easy. But, then, the One who's way we trod warned us that it wouldn't be. But we do have His promise that He walks the road with us, both then and now.