Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Poor Peter… as if things couldn’t get worse, Jesus just basically told him everything he feared was true. Jesus is just FILLED with good news today!
But isn’t that the point? Jesus is filled with good news; even these awful proclamations are good news. Peter can’t see it yet, but he will, and then he will do things he never thought possible; he will be telling others about the good news that Jesus has brought to the world, because he won’t have to be afraid of what carrying the cross means.
The command to take up one’s cross is not just for Peter and the disciples; it’s for us too. And, I think many times we misunderstand this particular command of Jesus’. Often we will hear someone say, “oh my illness, or whatever situation, is my cross to bear”. I don’t think that’s quite it, even though that situation may be painful and difficult. I think cross bearing means something quite different.
First, when Jesus carried the cross, whom did he carry it for? Certainly not for himself; he was perfect man and perfect God; he didn’t need the cross. But you know who did? Everyone else, including us. Jesus didn’t go through all of that horror because HE needed to be saved or because he was sinful; he went through it because WE needed to be saved from our sin. Cross bearing for Jesus, was an act of love that he did for us. And here’s the other part of that … dying on a cross was something that was incredibly painful AND shameful. It was reserved for criminals and those who challenged the empire… and Jesus did it anyway. Because his love for us was so great that he was willing to go through pain and shame on our behalf.
So, what does that mean for us? I am glad you asked….
Cross bearing is something that you and I do for someone else. Sometimes people have said to me that being a special needs parent is my cross to bear… it only becomes that, if I am willing to work and advocate for Danny’s well being, and for the well being of other disabled people; my alcoholism only becomes a cross to bear when I am willing to help someone else become sober. That’s how it works… our own difficulties while hard, are not our crosses to bear unless we are reaching beyond ourselves for the good of another… and sometimes, that cross might be filled with shame and pain. Hopefully, for most of us, it’s just garden variety inconveniences that we do for another, but make no mistake, all of us, by virtue of the command to love God and love our neighbor, could be called upon at any time to die for another; because cross bearing is the gift that we can give back to God who has died for each of us.
There is so much going on in the world right now, and not just in places far away, but right here in Longview. We all know how difficult the last few months have been for people that we know. People are struggling with depression, loss of income, food insecurity… we have teachers who are going to school to be with our kids perhaps at great risk to themselves (how’s that for cross bearing?). Everyone is struggling. The cross can and will take many forms for each of us, perhaps as mere inconveniences and perhaps as actions that might be seen as acting against the empire. People are suffering economically, spiritually, emotionally; issues of racism that we might have thought were better are alive and well; people need justice, they need peace, real peace, and it is fleeting most days. So, beloved, how are you and I going to be good news to others? What part of the cross are we being asked to take up? Jesus has been everywhere that you and I could possibly go… where will we follow him to today?