Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Take up your Cross...

The cross of Christ's Crucifixion is loaded with meaning.  Whether you look on it as a awkward reminder of Christ's pain and death when you'd rather focus on His life or whether you look at it with a focused intensity of claiming religious identity the cross is loaded with meaning.  So much of what it means to be Christian focuses on the meaning of what happened on the cross that when people read the familiar passage "take up your cross and follow me" what they take away is a message to work harder at following the ideals and social program of their own Christian community, which is largely a good take away message.  But I think it can miss the radical quality of Christ's call.  When Christ originally said to disciples to "take up your cross and follow me," Christ hadn't died yet.  There wasn't a symbol of an empty cross symbolizing resurrection, there wasn't an idea floating around that someone special would die on a cross and somehow reconcile God and man in some way.  The cross was simply a method of death by slow torture reserved for those who opposed to rule of Rome.  So to the people who heard it at the time, Christ's call would have sounded like a call to resistance against Roman oppression that could have no reasonable outcome other than death.

It's no surprise then that according to some interpretations, the Apostles Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot were possibly members of violent extremist political groups opposing Rome- with Zealot referring to a group known as Zealots that wanted to drive back Roman Rule and Iscariot possibly referring to a group of assassins known as the Sicarri who tried to kill Roman officials in Jerusalem.  While chronologically its possible these interpretations of the Apostle's personal characters might not be exactly correct, the New Testament is very clear the Apostles thought they were joining what would become a political opposition group.  As they state in Luke 24:21 "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."

Then, to put Christ's original call as His listeners originally heard it but put in modern terms, outside of the context of Christ's entire life it might have sounded like "Sign up for the firing squad and follow me.  We'll rebel against the government."  There is a sound of danger, of adventure, and of quixotic idealists itching to die a martyr's death.  It even sounds like a religious terrorist organization in the making- with promises of religiously charged glory, chances for martyrdom, and a simple message justifying violent direct action.

Living in an area where political extremism can be common, it's not uncommon for me to hear the grumblings of wannabe hero's fantasizing about murdering the US President, wishing that somebody would, or almost gleefully pondering how someone might do so one of these days.  At work I've heard idle conversation about how the government deserves to be over thrown.  While I feel that such grumblings are misguided to an extreme, I can also recognize that such people are trying to practice their morality the best way they know how, perhaps even similar to Christ's apostles who thought they were joining up to help lead an insurrection.  While contemplating or acting on such desires to resist evil can involve a certain type of courage and virtue, they don't fully represent the particular kind of courage Christ specifically called for.  Christ states:

"But I say, do not resist an evil person!"  (Matthew 5:39)

"And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also." (Matthew 5:40) which according to a commentary I've seen once, would have left the generous soul completely naked.

In the end, Christ's example show us the timeless "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:24)

Christ cared about Roman oppressions and it showed in kinds of people who joined him.  He just cares more about the internal state of the soul that becomes willing to bear anger, violence, or to contemplate evil towards others to resolve these problems.  So when we metaphorically "sign up for the firing squad" for Christ, I think we should be willing to be honest about problems that come from outside of us, our community, or our nation.  We should be willing to die to resist the evils in our world, but more willing to let the evils within us die.  Otherwise we become just one more tragic group of people seeking to save their live's from something external but lose their souls in the process.

In the whole, taking up a cross to follow Jesus isn't just a pledge to have certain opinions about Jesus, to deal with suffering with dignity, or to participate in church.  Its trying to achieve the delicate balance of pulling moral logs out of our eyes and working against social injustice at the same time.  And doing both despite the consequences.

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