Thursday, April 10, 2014
Take up your cross
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24, NLT)
Crosses. We see them all over. People wear them around their necks, put them in their front yard, decorate churches with them, tattoo them on their skin. At this time of the year, as we approach Easter, you even see chocolate crosses.
We pampered and spoiled Americans have pretty much lost the idea of what it means to take up our cross. We tend to think of inconveniences as our cross. Our mother-in-law is a pain in the neck, but it is "our cross to bear." The neighbor throws loud parties, but it is "our cross to bear." Out boss is a jerk, but it is "our cross to bear." Hogwash. Those aren't crosses, unless you're talking about the chocolate ones or jeweled ones we wear around our necks.
I read somewhere how shocked people from Jesus' time would be at our decorating and wearing crosses. The person said it would be comparable to us decorating and wearing electric chairs. Sounds bizarre, but they had a point.
In Jesus' time on earth, the cross was a cruel instrument of torture and death. It wasn't pretty. It wasn't chocolate or made of silver or gold. It was made of rough wood, and was ugly. When Jesus said to take up your cross, the disciples and others listening didn't have inconveniences or jeweled crosses in mind. All that they knew of crosses was a horrible way to die. Something bad.
The world has inconveniences. They have mothers-in-law that are pariahs and they wish would disappear from the face of the earth, and yet many manage to act civil with them. There are multitudes of things people call crosses that non-Christians deal with. Unfaithful spouses, handicapped and ill children. The list goes on, but those aren't crosses. They have nothing to do with following Jesus. Following Him may make those things more bearable and even easier, but a cross? No.
Bearing a cross is more than an inconvenience. It is being mocked for the stand you hold because of being a Christian. It is fighting desires that come naturally, in order to live a life pleasing to God. It is doing the right thing always. Even when no one else is. Even when it is the hardest thing you ever have done.
It is dying to yourself, your will, your desires, what you want. It is going forward on your walk with God if it means crawling and dragging yourself forward. It is being different from the world, forsaking all else to follow Christ.
It means walking a road that can be lonely, rough, uphill, but keeping your eyes on Jesus.
We seem to have forgotten that Jesus said this is a narrow way. That carrying a cross isn't a mere inconvenience, it is hard work.
For the last several years, I and my family have gone to see a Passion Play at a church in the Youngstown area. There is a scene where the man playing Jesus is staggering up the aisle, carrying a large wooden cross on his shoulder. I don't know how it compares to the cross Jesus really did carry, to the crosses that were used in that day, but it is definitely harder to carry around than the crosses we wear around our necks, or are on a T-shirt we wear.
I've been thinking a lot about this lately, what does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus? I can define the latter part pretty easily, but the first part.... not so much. It is a verse we quote, and something we use in cases like I used above. But what does it really mean?
To me, it means:
Serving God, no matter how hard it is to do it
Serving God, no matter who else does it
Loving your neighbor
Forgiving your enemies
Being in the world, not of the world
Sometimes being mocked for your faith
The list could go on, but that is what has come to mind. Carrying our cross and following Jesus is so much more than an inconvenience, and we trivialize what it means when we do use the term to desribe what are mere inconveniences in our lives.