“We all have our cross to bear” or “That’s my cross to carry” are sayings that have come into the English language from today’s Gospel passage. It may even be similar in other languages I suppose.
Usually this saying will refer to some problem in life that someone has to put up with. Saying “We all have our cross to bear” when someone complains about something in their life is not particularly sympathetic of course. It suggests burdens are part of everyone’s life and the person should just get on with things and stop complaining.
Jesus didn’t mean to indicate something that doesn’t work out well in life, some problem that had to be tolerated when he talked about taking up the cross. The cross in his time was an instrument of the worst possible way to put someone to death. It was long, drawn out, humiliating and very painful. It could last several days. A person was forced to carry the cross which would kill them, to where they would be executed. As they staggered through the streets, onlookers would shout insults at them and mock them, something that we know continued while crucifixion took place also.
We know that some of Jesus’ followers literally took up their cross and suffered death by crucifixion. It’s unlikely that such a death will happen to any of us. However, this doesn’t mean that what Jesus told his disciples is irrelevant to us now. Many Christians still die for their faith by various methods around the world. We’ve seen the work of Daesh as it has targeted Christians in Syria and Egypt, with bombs and beheadings. Anyone becoming a Christian must face the truth that death as a result of their faith is a possibility for them.
In Luke’s version of this passage, he adds that we must take up our cross ‘daily’. That indicates that every day there will be little deaths for us. Just remaining alive matters a great deal to most people but life is made up of many parts and each of these matter a lot to us – health, family, job, finances and so on. Following Jesus, taking up the cross, means that some of these aspects may be damaged or lost. When we become Christians we are asked to accept that anything and everything in our lives may be lost for the sake of Christ.
Jesus was called Beelzebub, a devil. He warned us that his disciples would also be called names, misjudged, misunderstood. Knowing that we may be thought of as evil or fools, will we still follow Jesus?
Following Jesus will bring misunderstandings in families just as Abraham found that following the call of God caused him problems in his family between his sons, a conflict which continues to this day between Arab and Jew. Knowing the problems that can happen in our families because of our faith, will we still follow Jesus?
It may not just be family relationships that suffer. Our friends may find that we are no longer like them, because we enjoy different activities and our worldview is different. Will we still follow Jesus if precious friendships might be lost?
For some people, their Christian faith means they can no longer stay in their job as they can no longer accept some practices or their ideas are not acceptable to their employers. That could mean losing their home also if they have no income. Will we risk all and still follow Jesus?
Perhaps we have a dream, something we long to be or to do. What if that does not fit with Christ’s priorities? Will we lay down the dream, pick up the cross and continue to follow in Jesus’ footsteps?
No one can answer these questions for us. Each has to answer for themselves. We cannot know in advance what the cost of following Jesus will be. It will be different for each of us. Some may seem to get off lightly and some may suffer far more. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to say that embracing the Christian faith has no unpleasant consequences.
However, we are reassured that whatever happens, God loves us deeply. We matter so much that he knows every detail about us, even how many hairs we have on our heads. We also have Jesus’ promise: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it”.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor