So, this morning, these challenging (at least to me!) words from Matthew’s Gospel:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world, but forfeit their life? Or what will the give in return for their life?”
Jesus probably didn’t actually say this. The writer of Matthew’s gospel probably put these words in the mouth of Jesus as instruction to the early Christian community to whom he was writing. But, the image here is stark. Taking up your cross didn’t mean shouldering the burdens and challenges and sorrows that come with life as we know it which is how some today read and interpret and understand these verses. Those to whom these words were first addressed carrying your cross was a concrete and awful reality. The Roman authorities crucified not just Jesus. The crucified thousands. Those who were forced to carry their cross, literally, carried them on their way to their own execution.
Serious stuff if we take the Bible seriously.
So, what are we to do with passages like this?
Before you run for the doors or cover your ears;
And because some part of all this is to be good news and not guilt news;
Guidance and encouragement for who we might be and how we might live;
Let me tell you what I think this passage means.
The problem with Jesus which got him into trouble with the powers that be, both religious and political, was that his vision of the world was fundamentally different from theirs. He constantly pushed beyond the carefully prescribed and tacitly agreed upon social and religious and political boundaries in almost everything he said and did.
- Instead of God being locked in the Temple and accessible only through prescribed rituals and sacrifices and religious leaders, he talked and taught about an intimacy with God. And referred to God using the word which means Daddy or Papa.
- He touched and healed and included and shared meals with those who everyone else deemed as sinful or unclean or dangerous or aliens or enemies and told everyone else they should do the same and that if they didn’t they were turning their backs on God.
- He talked about God’s Kingdom come. Not after you die or on some distant day, but God’s Kingdom come right here and right now. Any time and any place where compassion and kindness and welcome and hospitality are extended and received.
- He talked about God’s Kingdom and not Rome’s empire.
- He talked about the peace of God and not Pax Romana, and about peacemaking more than peacekeeping.
- He talked about all having enough and all having a place in a time and place where most did not have enough and most did not have a place and there was little to no hope with the way things were that it would ever be different.
- He talked about allegiance to God and not allegiance to Ceasar.
- He said compassion was more important than following the rules.
- He continued to speak up when they told him to be quiet.
- He reached out to others when they told him to keep his hands to himself.
And all that is what got him into trouble.
And, in the end, because of politics and pressure and potential unrest, it he was forced to carry a cross.
That’s all well and good.
And all about Jesus.
But where does that leave you and me?
Here I think.
This passage is not about martyrdom, but about fearlessness.
It is not about self denial, but about self control.
It is not about asceticism, but about seeing how our lives might be lived in partnership with God and God’s ongoing work in the world.
Here is what I mean.
The values wrapped up in God’s Kingdom come;
The values and witness taught and testified to by Jesus come with a cost.
Hope comes with a cost.
Compassion comes with a cost.
Kindness comes with a cost.
Welcoming the stranger and the disenfranchised comes with a cost.
Peace comes with a cost.
New life comes with a cost.
A cost measured in terms of:
A cost measured in terms of your life and mine.
The question before us always is:
Are we willing to accept that cost?
Are we willing to spend ourselves on compassion?
Are we willing to be fearless in building hope?
Are we willing to risk ourselves or something of ourselves setting aside self interest for the sake of another? Are we willing to give up something; to say No to something so that another might, at least, have what is needed?
Are we willing to lose your life walking towards peace?
The witness of the Gospel is this.
If we do;
When we do;
Then, we will find our lives and begin to live.