The essay argues that discipleship for Luke is crucicentric, i.e., the central metaphor for discipleship in Luke is cross-bearing. I examine the interplay of Luke’s depiction of Jesus’s as the suffering-and-rising Messiah and how that relates to the reshaped identity of those called by Jesus to be followers. Each of the three geographical divisions of Luke’s gospel contains references to the death of Jesus and to followers carrying a cross.
The first two passion predictions come near the end of the Galilean ministry of Jesus (4:14—9:50) and serve to establish Jesus’s identity as the suffering-and-rising Messiah (9:21–22, 44). Luke places his first use of the word “cross” (σταυρός) between these two passion predictions in Jesus’s command to his followers to take up their crosses and follow him (9:23). Like their master, Jesus’s followers are identified in the world by their suffering (and presumed rising).
In the middle section of Luke’s gospel (9:51—19:27) there are several passion predictions (11:45–54; 13:33–35; 17:25; 18:31–34). In light of Jesus’ resolute turn toward Jerusalem (9:51), these passages demonstrate Jesus’ faithfulness to his identity; he continues his journey toward Jerusalem knowing what awaits him there. Luke uses the term “cross” once again in the travel narrative, this time to reiterate disciples’ identities as cross-bearers (14:27). Those who fail to take up a cross cannot be Jesus’s disciples.
Finally, in the Lukan Jerusalem narrative (19:28—24:53) Jesus’ identity as suffering-and-rising Messiah is actualized when he is crucified, buried, raised from the dead, and ascends to heaven (23:32—24:53). In this same section, Luke uses the word “cross” one final time when Simon of Cyrene becomes a model of discipleship and carries the Jesus’s cross to the place of crucifixion (23:26). Luke does not make Simon a disciple, but rather a model of discipleship who literally carries a cross and follows Jesus. The only three passages in which Luke uses the word “cross” in his gospel are about discipleship. The central metaphor of discipleship in the third gospel is cross-bearing (metaphorically, though perhaps also literally) all that entails—denial of self, losing one’s life in order to save it, sharing in Jesus’s shame, hating one’s family by prioritizing loyalty to Jesus over loyalty to one’s relations, and surrendering one’s possessions.