Why am I surprised?
Mark 8: 34-38 (NRSVA)
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
Jesus tells it straight in today’s passage: He picks a powerful image of ‘taking up your cross’, one very well understood by his listeners. They know the full weight it promises: that death will come at the hands of violence and shame, full of pain and humiliation. Once you are carrying the cross, there is no way out, the verdict has been given, the end is written and life will end horribly.
Jesus knows his life of ministering to people will end in the persecution of the cross. He pursues his unique calling from his Father, allies himself with the poor and powerless and invites those he meets into the Kingdom of God, to live under God’s blessing.
The horror of the cross symbol is often lost in our familiarity with it, reduced to an item of fashion jewellery. We often read it from the viewpoint of the resurrection, Jesus no longer on the cross and raised to life; seeing it as the place of hope, rather than the symbol of death. Yet, we are called also to carry our cross, to bring into focus the purpose and gift of our own lives, to let go of what hinders us and takes us away from the unique calling God has for our lives to witness to God’s love for the world.
A friend of mine, for his 70th birthday, had a cross tattooed on his wrist to show his friendship with Jesus and to stand alongside persecuted Egyptian Christians who bear such tattoos. This was one of his steps of obedience to Jesus. One of mine was joining a residential Christian community. What steps of obedience has Jesus called you to take on your Christian journey? Is there something that Jesus is lovingly asking of you today?
You said from the start it would be difficult to follow you,
So why am I surprised when you ask me to take the narrow road,
The lowly place,
The painful step?
Yes, even to lose my life (or what I thought my life was)
To say ‘yes’ to your invitation into something bigger:
LIFE with you.