Taking Up Our Cross
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”
In the previous passage in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus was identified by Peter as the Messiah. Then Jesus, much to the consternation of his disciples, predicted that he, as the Son of Man, would “suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead” (8:31).
In today’s passage, Jesus connected his experience as the suffering Son of Man with that of his followers. If you want to come after me, Jesus said, “you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (8:34). When we hear Jesus speak of the cross, we naturally and rightly associate it with his sacrificial death. But his first disciples would not yet have made this association. For them, the cross was a symbol of cruel death and Roman domination. Crucifixion was reserved by Rome for the lowest of the low, most of all for those who dared to oppose Roman power. The disciples must have wondered if Jesus was calling them to literal death as they fought against Rome.
Of course, many of Jesus’ first followers did literally die because of their commitment to Jesus. Yet as the rest of our passage makes clear, he was not calling for literal martyrdom so much as a surrender of one’s whole self to him: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it” (8:35).
You and I have the opportunity to take up our cross each day as we live, not for ourselves, but for Jesus. This call to self-denial is not a popular one, but, as Jesus explained, it is indeed the way to a life of maximum meaning and eternal significance. As we go through the day, we have dozens of opportunities to choose to put our desires in second place as we give Jesus first place. As we do this, we discover new purpose in living, and we extend the kingdom of God into every facet of our lives.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How have you denied yourself in order to follow Jesus? Where do you struggle with giving up yourself for him?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, you know that I do not find it easy to follow Mark 8:34. I do not want to deny myself, even to “die” to myself so that I might live for you. It is natural for me to ask, “How does this help me?” or “What would be best for me in this situation?” Living for you does not come naturally.
But it does come spiritually, as your Spirit guides me. It comes as I reflect upon your self-giving sacrifice for me. It comes as I begin to live each moment in gratitude. It comes as I offer myself to you more fully, surrendering my desires, my agenda, my dreams, my whole self.
Help me, Lord, to take up my cross each day and follow you. May I follow you at work, at church, and at home. May I follow you when I’m with my friends and when I’m shopping at the grocery store. May I follow you when I spend my money and when I give it away. O Lord, help me to give up my life to you so that I might receive your abundant, full, fruitful life in return. Amen.
Risk and Reward
Early in every working life, a special transition occurs before you know how to avoid mistakes, yet after you’ve made them. Like when you first rode a bike without training wheels. You knew enough to be confident, yet too little to avoid losing skin from your knee. The transition is special because it marks a movement from novice to know-how, from apprenticeship to autonomy. Or, as we might say, from young to young professional.
The High Calling recognizes that everyone—moms, accountants, geologists—need vocational growth, so we share past experiences and tell lessons from the future. But what about the early days when we simply got out there and did it?
In the series Risk and Reward we ask, “How did I learn so much in so little time?” Join us and be inspired all over again.