Carrying our cross

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). What did Jesus mean when he said that if we want to be his disciples, we each must carry our cross? A cross is a sign not of life, but of death. When St. Luke wrote his gospel, the church was severely persecuted by the same Roman Empire that killed Jesus. Except for Judas who took his own life, the rest of the original twelve disciples each died a martyr’s death. Andrew died on the cross. Simon was crucified. Bartholomew was skinned alive. James (son of Zebedee) was beheaded. James, the son of Alpheus, was beaten to death. Thomas was run through with a lance. Matthias was stoned and then beheaded. Matthew was slain by the sword. Peter was crucified upside down. Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows. Philip was hanged.

Carrying our cross? “How much does it cost us to follow Jesus?” If we belong to the middle class in a “Christian” society such as ours, chances are that the cost of discipleship is minimal. We suffer no persecution. Perhaps, others may lightheartedly make fun of us, but that is not much of a price to pay.

A pastor tells a story of a hospital patient he visited. “The trouble with being religious,” the patient said, “is that you have to give up too much.” Just what is the cross that we each must bear? What is the “too much” that we have to give up? There are those who say that physical illness, problems with difficult relatives, failures in attaining desired goals, or falling short of expectations are their “crosses to bear.” But these are misfortunes, not the kind of cross Jesus wants us to carry. In fact, one can bear these burdens without following Jesus. Neither is our cross similar to the physical cross that a flagellant carries and onto which he is nailed. The cross Jesus wants us to bear involves the decisions we make in following Him and the willingness to pay even a high price for it.

The cross we have to bear can be more fully understood in relation to the cross that Jesus carried and to which he was crucified. That was the consequence of Jesus’ free-will decision to obey God’s will for him to die on the cross so that sinners like you and me shall live. This suggests that there are things in each of us that must die so that we may be free to experience the joys as well as the costs of following Jesus. We must crucify not only our low, but also our high desires if and when they clash with the claims of Christ on us. We must freely allow God’s grace to work its transforming power in us so that we can empty ourselves of self-centeredness, greed, pride, hatred and unforgiving spirits and so receive God’s promise of human life in all its fullness. This can, and should, happen not only in high moments of worship but also in the ordinary events of our daily life. (Rev. Dr. Lourdino A. Yuzon)