‘We all have our crosses to bear’ is a phrase heard often in common language; it tends to mean that there is some difficulty or sorrow in our lives that cannot be healed, that will not go away. Something we just need to grin and bear.
This is not what is going on here. The challenge to ‘take up your cross’ was something new even to the disciples and has come at a turning point in their discipleship. Up to this point following Jesus has been an adventure, there have been challenges and some dangers along the way, but that has just added to the camaraderie. This raggle taggle bunch of men have found their place, and a spiritual place at that, following Jesus. They want to be more like him, they want to be awarded with positions of prestige in his ‘school’ and in his kingdom too, for just prior to today’s passage Peter has made the pronouncement that Jesus is the Messiah.
You are the MessiahMark 8:29
Even making such a statement was dangerous. In the political turmoil that Jesus and his followers inhabited messiahs had come and gone, generally leaving via crucifixion. The Roman officials took no risk when it came to political uprisings and a leader who gathered a following and spoke out against the occupation would soon be put to death. Despite this, when Jesus tells his disciples that he is to die they cannot stomach it. Peter in particular speaks out against the rash intentions of Jesus, and is ‘rebuked’, a telling off that would not just put him in his place but humiliate him too.
It isn’t the danger that Peter is afraid of; to go to battle is something that he is prepared for. Peter is a man of strength, loyalty, and action; it is he who will actually use the sword when Jesus is arrested. Jesus isn’t talking about battle though, this new teaching isn’t a pep talk before donning armour and taking up weapons and beginning a military (or even rebel) manoeuvre, Jesus is talking about walking to his death without putting up a fight. This Messiah will be subjected to torture; this teacher of the faith will be rejected by the religious authorities; this source of life and healing will be put to death, and it is all part of the plan.
The disciples are shocked. This is not how following Jesus was supposed to pan out. Jesus was to make things right again in heaven and on earth, that was why they were following him, had given their lives to him. Not this failure.
Jesus continues, not only will he willingly die, but he is calling his followers to be willing to die for the cause also. Perhaps if he had told them to raise arms and done so himself, they would have willingly responded to the rousing battle cry, but not this. Not this weak and feeble, pathetic end to the glorious years of being at the heart of Jesus’ teaching of hope and healing. Jesus isn’t asking them to be willing to die for him, he is calling them to carry with them their instrument of death: death is to become part of their life from here on in, and could take place at any point.
There is some comfort, perhaps, maybe… those who lose their life for Jesus will gain eternal glory. A more sinister form of asking a child if they want one sweet now or two later.
The disciples are shocked by this new teaching. Stopped in their tracks. Peter at least, has a wife, a family, what would this mean for them? They are shocked, and yet we know that they will make the decision to follow Jesus. They will indeed pick up their crosses, perhaps carrying them lightly at first. This is what makes them saints and heroes, well 11 of them anyway.
In Peter’s denial, in the others’ shock, amidst the inner turmoil each has to face in order to make that decision to follow or not, something is lost. Yes Jesus has said that he will knowingly walk into a trap that will result in him being tortured, disgraced, executed, but he has also openly declared his resurrection,
after three days rise again.Mark 8:31
When we are faced with difficulties and challenges, when our own crosses become too heavy to bear, do we lost sight of the bigger picture, the resurrection that is to come? As we make our way through lent in a lockdown do we need to be reminded of the resurrection that is to come? Do we need to maybe put down our crosses for a moment so that we can straighten up and look to the horizon, see the sun’s rays, and recall Resurrection Sunday?
Read the full passage here.