Take Up Your Cross
We hear a dark message from Jesus today; He is not the sweet Jesus, meek and mild. He is brutally honest and straightforward, “I am going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. And if you would come after me you must take up your cross. And if you want to save your life, you must first lose it.” That is a tall order. This Jesus led a remarkable life; He spent three decades of His life about 30 of His 33 years where you and I would never dream of looking for Him.
A small town never mentioned in the Old Testament, a town about which His native disciple to be Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Of those three decades, we know little save that the Child got bigger, wiser and was loved by God and the people of Nazareth. Then He got lost for three days and was found in the temple by His parents. He gave no more than three years publicly to the people He had been born to save. Even then He descended on them not with Angels, thunder or power.
He began as we would never begin. He had John baptize Him. The devil tempted Him from His mission with bread, pride, with riches. He had friends among the well to do, Lazarus and his sisters. He loves them.
But spent most of His time with those the self-righteous despised, those they called sinners. He preached a twin message everyone could understand. Love God above all else, love your sisters and brothers as much as you love yourself. He made enemies of the powerful because He put compassion above tradition. Love about law, people above things. He claimed a relationship with the Father, so intimate. That the scandalized took up stones to cast at Him for blasphemy because you being a man, make yourself God.
Those three years were a journey as we read in our gospel today, a journey to Jerusalem. Because, you see, Jesus became human not simply to say something. To tell us truths we could never have suspected about God and about ourselves. He became human to do something, every word He spoke, and every breath He drew. Every curse that mocked Him and every stone that missed Him was a step on His way to Jerusalem. It was there that the impossible would happen, the unthinkable.
Our salvation from sin and self would be consummated in crucifixion. Not our crucifixion, but God’s. One dark day we humans that He had created took our God and nailed Him to a cross. And this tremendous lover did all of this for you and me. As if we were the only ones that ever existed. And if we are to follow Christ we, too, must be ready to bear a cross. Whoever does not take up their cross daily is not worthy of me. But as we saw in today’s gospel, He turned savagely on Peter when He rebelled against the cross.
And remember even Jesus had someone help Him carry His cross and He will help us carry ours. What kind of cross will you have to carry? That you carry now, I do not know. I do know that the cross is not just for the elderly, it touches all of us. Pain of body or spirit, disappointments, the death of a loved one. The insecurities of youth and the trembling of old age. The cross hangs over all of our lives and with all my years of theology, I still do not know why.
What I do know, what I have experienced is that there is no human pain that cannot be touched to the Cross of Christ. There is no death that does not bring life. The only thing that can help us carry the crosses that are so much part of life is our relationship with God. Hopefully, a loving relationship.
But you will not love God because you have studied Him. You will love Him because you have touched Him and He has touched you. The questions why suffering, why pain, why do bad things happen to good people? Those questions will not wear away. But you will come to know that your Gethsemane is His Garden, your Calvary is also His Cross. We all shudder a little when Christ warns us that life can get tough and that we have to face up to it. None of us likes cross carrying, we are somewhat like those disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Remember them? They were walking away from Jerusalem, away from the suffering, away from the Cross, the Resurrected Christ joins them on the road, and they do not recognize Him. And they tell Him of all their disappointments and their frustrations. That they are leaving Jerusalem, going to Emmaus away from the Cross. We all like to do that, walk away from our own Jerusalem, away from suffering and the Cross. The danger is in missing the Resurrection.