Apr6MonApril 6, 2020
Preparing for Good Friday
CHOOSING THE CROSS
For the last week of Lent, in preparation for Good Friday, we will be engaging with material taken from Chapter 6 in “Desiring God’s Will” by David Benner. A portion of the chapter is to be read each day. You can simply pray out of what impacts you in the reading.
Jesus was brutally clear about what the choice to follow him means.
“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25
Jesus could never be accused of overselling discipleship! Christ-following demands self-renunciation and requires that we embrace things we would never naturally choose – to pick up and carry the instrument of our suffering, which will become the instrument of crucifixion of our willful self.
But before we try to understand what Jesus is inviting us to do when he asks us to take up our cross and follow him, it may be helpful to reflect on what it meant for Jesus to take up his cross. When we think about this, the first thing that comes to mind is of course the physical cross he carried on the road to Calvary. But this external cross was merely the symbol of many inner crosses he had long before this day learned to bear in his choosing of God. Had he not first learned to take up these inner crosses, he would have been unable to choose the external one.
What, then, were some of the inner crosses that Jesus learned to bear long before his physical journey along the Via Dolorosa? Because of the private nature of inner crosses, we can never know for sure. But the Gospels do give us some clues.
Think, for example, of Jesus’ relationship with the religious authorities who viewed him with suspicion and hostility and constantly sought to entrap him. Think of how hard it must have been for him to love those who persecuted him and turn his other cheek to those who abused him. He did this, but he did it because he chose to bear in love the people whom he would never have naturally written into the script of his life.
Even his own disciples often constituted a cross that had to be embraced. Think of the account of their inability to heal the man with epilepsy (Matthew 17:14-20). A sanitized Gospel that sought to make Jesus conform to the shape of a deity who was less than fully human would never have recorded his irritation at their lack of faith presented in this passage. Standing before the suffering man and the disciples who had been unable to heal because of their lack of faith, Jesus spoke harsh and critical words: “Faithless and perverse generation!...How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put with you? Bring him here to me.” Jesus then rebuked the devil and cured the son.
I believe this gives us a glimpse of a private cross that Jesus had to learn to bear – his disappointment with the lack of faith he regularly encountered in people, even his own disciples. Recall that he wept over Jerusalem when confronted with the spiritual blindness of residents of the city (Luke 19:41). Think also of his enthusiastic response whenever he encountered genuine faith, even when it was in those outside the family of faith and the community of Israel – for example, the centurion who came to Jesus so his servant could be healed (Matthew 8:5-10) and the Canaanite woman who sought the healing of her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28). How hard it must have been for Jesus, who lived every moment of his life by faith, to be surrounded by people of little faith. This was surely a cross he had to learn to bear.
Living and working in the intimate company of Judas had to be another cross of immense weight for Jesus. He who knew the hearts of all whom he encountered (Matthew 12:25); John 2:25) had in his inner circle of closest friends one who he knew would betray him. Daily Jesus had to choose to love Judas and offer the chance to choose the kingdom of God over the kingdom of self. And daily he had to embrace the cross of discouragement that must have arisen as he saw where this relationship was heading.
Jesus undoubtedly had other crosses to bear. Only he could tell us what they were. The list might include loneliness. It may also have included a lack of sexual fulfillment. Quite possibly it included the sense of "differentness". Everything that he would not naturally have chosen and that caused suffering because for Jesus a cross to be taken up as he followed his heart toward the heart of God.
The call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus is not necessarily – or even likely – a call to martyrdom. But, like Jesus, we can be quite certain that we will encounter suffering and face choices between saving and losing the life of our autonomous self. In the midst of this suffering we have the choice of walking with Christ on the Way of the Cross. It is precisely in the midst of these acts of self-denial that we face the opportunity to encounter resurrection life.