"Take Up Your Cross"
[Jesus] 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” (Mark 8:34).
What does Jesus mean when he insists that that those who would become his followers must “take up their cross?” Many believe cross-bearing means suffering some affliction, tragedy, or sorrow that God sends as a test of one's faithfulness. I've never been able to buy that interpretation. In fact, I've puzzled for many years to understand what Jesus means here.
A recent epiphany has helped to shed light on what Jesus is talking about here. For the past few years I've been leading workshops and teaching class on discipleship in the Wesleyan tradition. One of the hand outs I've used to help illustrate the need for balance between “Loving God” and “Loving Neighbor” is a cross-shaped diagram. I've titled this handout, “The Shape of Discipleship.”
It suddenly dawned on me this week that to “take up their cross” means to take up the life of discipleship. Taking up the cross, therefore, means submitting ourselves to obedience to all the teachings of Jesus. If we are to enjoy the blessings of life with Christ we must humble ourselves and obey his teachings, summarized in the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. ... You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). This life of cruciform love is the cross Jesus invites those who would become his followers to bear in themselves. The vertical beam is our relationship with God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The horizontal beam is how we live out our love for God, by loving those whom God loves, as God loves them ('You shall love your neighbor as yourself'). If we truly pay attention to God in prayer, worship, the Lord's Supper, and studying Scripture then we will be compelled toward service in the world through compassion and justice.
Jesus invites those who would follow him to be set free from the tyranny of self, to take up his life of obedient self-giving love, and to walk with him in the world. In the process we die more and more to self and are set free to become more and more like him; to become fully the human beings God created us to be, in Christ.