Cross-Carrying vs. Burden-Bearing

Cross-Carrying vs. Burden-Bearing January 17, 2011

I was reflecting on Luke 14 and intense way Jesus makes demands in this chapter, if one wants to be a disciple.    All too often, Christians confuse ordinary suffering with cross-bearing.   Your physical pain or suffering may well be your thorn in the flesh, but it’s not ‘your cross to bear’.  Cross-bearing as a metaphor for discipleship to Jesus has to do with a deliberately chosen course of life, not something that simply happens to you.   The second thing to be said about cross-bearing is that Jesus does not call us to bear his cross, rather he talks about picking up our own crosses, and carrying them.

Among other things, this means that there is no room for Christians developing messiah complexes as if they could save the world, perhaps through dying a spectacular death.  No, while it is true that Jesus told his followers that they might well have to give up their lives for their allegiance to him, and not just their possessions or their families,  cross-bearing for the Christian is something rather different than what happened to Jesus somewhere around 30 CE.   That was a one time event,  but as Luke stresses, the disciple is called to take up their cross daily and follow Jesus.

What this likely means is a daily commitment to present one’s self to God as a living sacrifice, a daily commitment to live a Christ-like, self-sacrificial life.   And make no mistake about it, Jesus and Luke as well emphasis how hard this is to do.  Indeed, they suggest that it is impossible, except by the grace of God and the help of God’s Spirit.  It’s not a natural normal human thing to do.  It requires divine help.

Some preachers have thought that the way to get more people into the pews is by making it easy— Gospel lite— less filling, tastes great.    In fact Jesus suggests just the opposite.  He takes the approach of the Marines.   He tells one and all, it’s going to be hard to follow, hard to live up to his demands, indeed it may even lead to one’s demise and then he exhorts his audience—-‘whose up the challenge’?   Interestingly, cheap grace apparently is not the way of getting more people to be devoted disciples.   So what’s the secret?    Jim Elliot, a modern martyr who lost his life trying to reach South American Auca Indians for Christ, put it this— “he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep (i.e. this life), to gain what he cannot lose (everlasting life.”    Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested the same when he said that when Christ calls a person, in principle he calls him to come and die and indeed Bonhoeffer paid for his convictions with his life.  In other words,  when you realize this life is not the be all or end all of existence, you can sit more lightly with it,  take more risks for Christ with it,  be less self-protective or self-indulgent.   Following Christ will get you somewhere alright, and its not where the self-help gurus tell you you should go.

In reflecting on this very portion of Luke (as well as other Scriptures), Martin Luther wrote the great hymn of the Reformation entitled,  ‘Ein Feste Burg’  or as we know it ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God’.    The line which should ring a bell after reading Luke 14 carefully is ‘let goods and kindred go/ this mortal life also/the body they may kill/God’s truth abideth still. His Kingdom is forever.’

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