Take up Your Cross

Cinco de Mayo

Jesus said: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” (Luke 9:22-25 NRSV)

“We all have our cross to bear.” Religious people often rephrase the proverb as: “God gives everyone a cross to bear.” I hear that, or something similar, regularly, and I know what the speaker means. She is invariably referring to the struggles of being human – aches, pains, sickness, financial worries, internal battles with anxiety, depression or addiction, relationship issues, vocational struggles, and the like.

But, when Jesus said to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him, he was not referring to the struggles to common broken humans living in a broken world. No non-masochistic sane person chooses rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s dementia, poverty, or clinical depression. Nor does a loving, omnibenevolent, Abba Father inflict people with cancer, AIDS, or agoraphobia.

The cross to which Jesus was referring is clearly something we choose voluntarily to take up. God doesn’t make crosses. People make crosses. Jesus’ literal cross was a Roman gibbet, fashioned by humans for the purpose of extraordinarily humiliating, agonizing torture.  God didn’t make that cross – the Romans did. From a theological perspective, I helped make it because Jesus died for me.

The cross we are called to bear, like the one Jesus bore, is inflicted by self or others. It takes many forms – persecution, martyrdom, rejection, backlash, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia and injustice are inflicted by others; blaming yourself for being abused, embracing the lie that you are worthless, and pursuing the emptiness of consumerism are examples of self-inflicted crosses.

Too often, those who say, “Everyone has a cross to bear,” imply that we are simply to put up with it as best we can. Our daily crosses are seen as inevitable sufferings about which we can do little other than endure. But endurance in love leads to transformation.

Jesus endured the cross, even though he despised the shame, by embracing the joy that was set before him. That joy was not simply returning to the bliss of heaven; it was the joy of welcoming us, broken humans, into fellowship with the living God. His endurance of the crucifixion brought salvation, hope, shalom.

We are to endure our crosses as he did – with agapé love. We respond to the hatred, persecution and injustice of enemies with loving nonviolence. We face our own fears, inadequacies, and internal lies, by loving ourselves as God loves us.

By responding to evil with love, we defeat it. We advance the Kingdom of God and push back the kingdom of evil.

Sin, and the evil it causes, is destined to self-destruct because it is contrary to and an assault on the natural order God created. In Ezekiel 28:1-19 (the story of the king of Tyre and the fall of Lucifer/the satan), the destructive fire comes from within, like the decay caused by eremacausis. We see it exemplified on the cross. Evil caused the crucifixion of our Lord, and in so doing destroyed itself. Evil exhausted all its energy on Jesus on the cross, spent itself out. What the satan thought was his ultimate victory, turned out to be his total defeat.

When we take up our crosses, we participate in God’s work.

The cross we are called to bear is first of all the willingness to die for Christ. It is the extreme commitment of love – the irrational, other-centered, self-sacrificial state of mind that would literally take a bullet for the loved one.

Many times after my son Elliott committed suicide, I cried with King David, “My son, my son, would that I had died instead of you.” And, I meant it. If I could have died in his stead, I would have. I love my kids intensely. I would, if I could, take any suffering or sorrow they experience into myself.

When I gaze into the beatific, grace-saturated, eyes of Christ, my love for him swells an order of magnitude beyond even the love for child.

“Looking unto Jesus…” “We all behold him with open face…”

When I get a taste of grace, when I look into the eyes of Jesus, when I hear his voice, I am overwhelmed, immersed, inundated with love for God. Dying for him would be a joy.

But, taking up our crosses is more than a willingness to die for Christ. It is a commitment to follow him. It is a determination to, with the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, respond to evil with goodness, turn the other cheek, go the second mile, become the servant of all, bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, love our enemies – in short, to be like Christ, to imitate him, to bear his image to the world.

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on May 5, 2018, in Bible, Christianity, Prayer, Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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