“Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says. Three of the four gospel writers record this statement, Matthew twice. (Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, Matthew 10:38 and 16:24) What does he mean? Growing up on the farm fifty years ago, a neighbor referred to her husband as her “cross to bear.” He didn’t go to church with her, but I don’t think he beat her. To my nine-year-old self, he seemed okay.
I haven’t heard that phrase lately. Not even in church. Certainly not in Atlantic Monthly or O Magazine. Twenty-first century Americans don’t like to hear of bearing crosses. We’d be more likely to divorce the bum.
We follow our own north star. We find our bliss. At least, that’s the advice, applicable, of course, only to those of us still working and living in our own houses.
The first century Roman cross was the instrument of capital punishment, meant to kill slowly, with great humiliation. Wikipedia describes the horrors.
What, exactly, did we sign up for when we signed up with Jesus? What kind of gruesome call is the call to carry our own cross? I much prefer finding my bliss.
And yet, we all know what he’s talking about. The cross that Jesus carried was made heavy by sin. Not his own, but ours: sins of violence and self-absorption, of neglect and narcissism.
And isn’t that what our cross is also made of? Unlike Jesus, our cross is also weighed down by those unavoidable consequences of our own sin. Like Jesus, though, our cross includes the consequences of others’ sin against us.
If you’re a married survivor of sexual abuse, you’ve know the price you’ve paid for your perpetrator’s sin. If you’re the sister of a murdered sibling, you ache with that deprivation. If you’ve watched a child self-destruct, you, too, are carrying a cross.
Jesus carried and died on that Roman cross, for the “joy set before him.” (Hebrews 12:2) And so it is for us. Carrying our crosses in fellowship with him, we thank him for the sure hope of sharing that joy.
Jesus, please give us grace today to take up our cross, with hope.