Who, me? Pick up a 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. 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 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." – Mark 8:34-38
These are some of the toughest words in the New Testament.
I want to follow Jesus, but "taking up my cross" to follow him brings images of that last journey Jesus made through Jerusalem, bowed under the weight of the cross on which he would die, crucified.
Somehow, the idea isn't too appealing.
Still, the Apostles lived short, hard lives, followed by martyrdom (most of them) or exile (John). It was this refusal to budge from their witness of who Jesus was and is, even under pain of death, that convinced me of the reality of their accounts.
Is Christ calling on us to suffer crucifixion for him?
While martyrs exist even in this day, we can take up our crosses and follow Jesus in other ways. Dedicated pastors sacrifice most of their personal lives, recreational time and probably 70 hours a week in service to Christ. Medical missionaries risk disease, unfriendly local officials, hardship living conditions and any personal life at all to bring life-giving services to others.
But the sacrifice Christ demands of us each day is the hardest one to make. That sacrifice is of ego, pride, materialism, time, spiritual gifts: ourselves, every day. In some ways, that's harder to attain than martyrdom, a one-time event.
Sacrificing or subordinating all my wants and concerns to the service of Christ, every day, is something at which I fail much more than I succeed.
But, what good is it to have the world, to have things the way I, in my petty ego, want them, if in the end, I lose everything?
It is only his mercy, his grace, that saves me, for I'll never attain that kind of piety.
Because I do love him so much, each day I will strive to surrender more of myself to Christ's will, to proclaiming the Gospel.
I don't want him to be ashamed of me, the one who professes to be his follower.
Dear Lord, help me to become more like you each day. Help me put away my vanities and petty concerns so I can be a better witness to you. Help me give myself to you. Amen.