“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt 16:24) That is a key verse in today’s gospel. Part of the American idiom is having a cross to bear but I thing it most often points to the presence of a difficult responsibility or burden that someone must handle on their own or just tolerate as best as one can. But has the expression lost its sense of pointing to or working for the glory of God.
The history of the early church is “taking up the cross” but whose meaning was seriously different. Consider a few passages from Scripture.
- After Peter confessed that he was the Christ, Jesus began to predict his death, much to the shock of his disciples who longed for a savior who would vanquish the Romans: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days” (Mark 8:31) After that Peter rebukes Jesus and says there is no way that will happen.
- There is a parallel incident to this Gospel passage in the life of Paul. Luke writes that Paul was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem by the day of Pentecost. When their ship landed for a short stay at Caesarea, “We had been there several days when a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came up to us, took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, “Thus says the holy Spirit: This is the way the Jews will bind the owner of this belt in Jerusalem, and they will hand him over to the Gentiles.” When we heard this, we and the local residents begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul replied, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? I am prepared not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’” (Acts 21:8–12). About a week after they landed in Jerusalem Paul was arrested, the first step toward his eventual martyrdom in Rome.
- And then there is the entire history of the martyrs.
These days of the Coronavirus pandemic have certainly been a trial, has tested us and our patience, taken away our joy, changed our plans, and in many way put us in a cauldron where we might wonder “Where is God in all this?” But I would suggest it is the wrong question. The better question is where are we in all this?
No one gets to choose the times in which we live. This past year has been filled with so many disappointments. One has to feel such compassion for all the wedding celebrations that were not what was planned, the graduations that were subdued or virtual, and all the hopes put on hold. I think it is pretty easy to despair, to wish things were different, or wish you lived in another time… but not gets to choose the time in which they live. We only get to decide what to do with the time given us.
Look around to your friends, family, neighbors and those in need. There are so many people in need of love. There are so many opportunities to build the Kingdom with all the broken pieces. There is the commitment to lead a worthwhile life that lets the light of God shine through you into these very times in which we live.
And in so doing, we pick up the cross and follow.