Again, a word of caution is necessary, here. As much as participation remedies harmful substitutionary interpretations of Jesus’ death, the mantra of “taking up one’s cross” has also been used to harm marginalized and disenfranchised communities and people trying to survive abuse.
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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
Taking up or bearing one’s cross has often been used as a metaphor for being passive in enduring the abuse and/or injustice someone may be facing. Pastors used this rhetoric to counsel my own mother to stay in abusive marriages. It’s counsel that has often proven lethal, both for men and women.
Taking up a cross and following Jesus doesn’t mean putting up with abuse or injustice. The cross was the tool of the state used against those who were resisting abuse and injustice, not being passively silent. Rome used the threat of the cross to quell uprisings and revolts.
In other words, the cross is not an injustice that someone should simply bear with their hopes and sights set on heaven. The cross was what someone suffered at the hands of the powerful and elite when that person or others did not simply bear the injustice and harms of their oppression and marginalization.
If you don’t speak up, if you remain passive in the face of injustice, there is no cross to bear. A cross only enters the picture when we speak up and speak out, and those in power are threatened enough to threaten us with a cross if we don’t shut up.
In those moments, Jesus encourages his followers to keep speaking up, keep speaking out, keep pushing for change. This is a far cry from Jesus counseling his followers to simply bear injustice. Jesus encourages his followers: when they are afraid, when they experiencing pushback in response to their calls and demonstrations for change, keep at it even if they threaten you with a cross.
(Read Part 3)