Take up the cross
Week of Sunday August 31 2008
Lectionary Reading: Matthew 16:21-31
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.' But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.'
Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.'
If you want to follow Jesus, you'd better look good on wood. The famous saying by Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan comes to mind this week. It's an unpleasant revelation to the disciples in Matthew's story. They have found the Messiah, who is now telling them that things will be very different from what they imagine.
The true anointing from God, whether we read the drama as a foretelling of, or as a reflection upon the crucifixion, calls us into conflict. Conflict with the very centre of our faith- Jerusalem, the elders, the chief priests and the scribes.
Taking up the cross can be literal. Don Helder Camera, Bonhoeffer and many others are witness to that. The list includes the thousands killed for being Christian, as have many others been killed for their faiths. It's hard not to wonder how much one has failed in discipleship when life has been so relatively peaceful and secure here in Australia.
At one level, martyrdom seems to be the (un)luck of the draw. Security is ephemeral and circumstantial. For a few scant minutes I once had 400 people yelling and screaming at me. Most of it was not in English, so some may have been crying support, but it was clear that the situation was dangerous. Resolution came through the wisdom of a few friends. That incident was a stark demonstration to me of how isolated and vulnerable we are when we step outside the boundaries of societal approval. I spent days afterward looking behind me.
Whether we are Bonhoeffer, or an anonymous martyr who never makes the press, or local clergy or church member being carved up with oh so civilised precision and hypocrisy by some in our congregation, the principles are the same:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
This is not just religious piety. It's not mere threat theology; that is, do what I say or you won't get saved. It's a spiritual truth that transcends religious orientation. What is my life worth if I am rich, but have compromised everything I believe in? How can I live with myself in that situation? Ease and comfort are an illusion when one reclines on a couch of guilt.
Sometimes I sit and think about life, and what I've achieved. I remember hopes and dreams and ideals. I regret things not achieved, and sometimes grieve over my failings and losses. I've been given a certain level of contentment, and gather that some people even like and respect me. I reckon the good in me seems correlates with living with the principle. Where I have denied my own success and security and lived for what I believe, I seem to have grown and achieved. Where I have not had the courage to let go of my safety, I have been denied growth and discovery of new strength and life.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!