These are the moments when we are not self-sacrificing. We aren’t choosing to die; we are choosing not to let go of that which is life-giving, just, right, and good. Jesus didn’t choose to die. He chose not to let go of life when threatened with death for doing so. There is an important difference. If we define the cross as passivity that we should imitate, how we respond to injustice and wrongs in our world will also be passive. We’ll set our sights on a future heaven, leaving our present world untouched, unchallenged, and unchanged.
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But if we define the cross as punishment for speaking up and working for a safer, more compassionate, just world here, now, we will see it as punishment that we are not to allow to silence us. We will bear it as we keep working to make the world a better place, and that will change our response to injustice and abuse in our daily lives.
Choosing death doesn’t bring life. Choosing life brings life. In the very next statement of our passage, Jesus says:
“For whoever wants to save their life [by choosing to be silent] will lose it [abuse and injustice will continue], but whoever loses their life for me [speaking out about harms being committed] will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world [by being silently complicit in injustice], yet forfeit their soul [their being, who they are]? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
Again, this was written at a time in Galilee when the Jesus-following community was experiencing persecution for their vision of a society where everyone was taken care of. That vision, inspired by Jesus, was a threat to those profiting from inequity.
What does this mean for us today?
Think back to a time when you experienced pushback for speaking out against injustice. Were you encouraged not to rock the boat or to just remain silent? Were you misguidedly told to simply “bear your cross?”
That situation was not your cross to bear. It was injustice. The Jesus of our story this week encourages you to keep speaking out even if those who are disturbed threaten you with a cross.
I want to be clear here. The cross is not an intrinsic part of following Jesus because following Jesus is not a death cult. It is a life path. The cross only becomes a part of following Jesus when those threatened by a more just world choose to use a cross to threaten you.
We are witnessing this in the U.S. daily. From courtroom judges receiving death threats for doing what is right and privileged people being threatened by a multiracial, diverse democracy, to men responding in fragility to a doll movie or cisgender people feeling attacked when trans people experience equality and justice, there are so many, many stories. Crosses have not disappeared, they’ve simply changed form.
When a more compassionate, just, and safe world for everyone is perceived as a threat to privileged people, when those people lash out and seek to silence you, using rhetoric like “being woke” as a slur, the Jesus of this week’s reading is telling us, keep going. It’s working.
Even in the face of threats, keep speaking out and working alongside those our present system deems “the least of these.”
Herb’s new book, Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels, is now available at Renewed Heart Ministries.