Apr8WedApril 8, 2020
What does embracing the crosses of your life have to with choosing to follow Christ? Why did Jesus make this so central to choosing God, putting it first on his list of what it means to be a disciple?
The answer to these questions lies in the remarkable passage that follows Paul’s discussion of his personal cross, something he called his “thorn in the flesh. “He does not tell us what this cross was. But listen to him speak about his struggle with it and what he learned through it.
About this thing, I have pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me, but he has said, “My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.” So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may sty over me, and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses, and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
Astoundingly, whatever Paul’s private cross was, it became his gift. It came to be the thing of which he was most proud, his most cherished possession. The reason this cross became so valuable to him was that through it he learned the paschal mystery. He learned that life comes from death, strength from weakness.
This is the foolishness of the cross – not simply the physical cross on which Christ was crucified, but the crosses on which we experience crucifixion of the kingdom of self and the new abundant life of the kingdom of God. Paul could boast about his weakness, not his strength (2 Corinthians 12:5), because God has shown him that divine power is manifest in human weakness.
Our crosses – once embraced and carried in response to Christ’s invitation to follow him as he followed the will of his heavenly Father – become the places where we meet the divine power that is the only possible agent of our transformation. The cross that I take up and carry in response to Jesus’ invitation to follow him becomes the place not only of my death but also of my resurrection. The way of Christian spirituality is the Way of the Cross. There is no alternative route. The Christian life is filled with little deaths and little resurrections, little Good Fridays and little Easter Sundays. Each embrace of my cross is a further step into the kingdom of God, a kingdom we can reach only on the other side of the death of our own kingdoms and queendoms of self-sufficiency and self-determination.
The cross of Christ is an icon of transformation: “Hanging between heaven and earth…[it puts] together what normally cannot be put together.” (Richard Rohr: Religion/Spirituality and Pain: Seeking an Icon of Transformation) The cross reminds us that it is in pain and suffering that we experience our transformation – not in our efforts to improve ourselves or avoid sin. The cross reminds us that it is in weakness, suffering and death that we find life.
The cross is a place of tension. Taking up our cross – rather than avoiding, minimizing or reacting to it – places us squarely in a place of suffering. But God works out our transformation in the midst of the tension. This is the gift Jesus gives us when he invites us to take up our crosses and follow him.
Just as Jesus was crucified between the good thief and the bad thief, we are always crucified in the torture of opposites. We experience good and bad in our childhood. But Jesus’ invitation is to accept the givens of our life and follow him. We experience love and betrayal in our marriages and friendships. But Jesus’ invitation remains the same – to accept the givens of our life and follow him. We experience joy and suffering in our body. And Jesus’ word to us remains constant – take up your cross and follow me.