Grin & Bear It?

I have found 4 uses of the phrase, “take up your cross”. All 4 in the Gospels and spoken by Jesus in red letters. In one use, Matthew 10:38 says, “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine”.


In context, Jesus is giving a pep speech/charge to the 12 Disciples as He sends them out to preach. He gives them instructions in chapter 10 to focus on preaching to the Israelites, freely give healing, receive hospitality graciously, anticipate resistance, trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and do not fear. Verses 30-31: “And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” Jesus guarantees 2 things in this chapter- God is with the Disciples and suffering as a result of faith will happen.


When Jesus speaks of the Disciples taking up their crosses, perhaps He means taking on the identity of a metaphorical martyr. Martyr means witness. Not all martyrs die- white martyrdom is a metaphorical death as one dies to oneself and self-focus, while red martyrdom is giving one’s life to a cause through literal physical death.


It is tempting as 21st century people who know the spoiler to jump ahead with what Jesus could mean in this passage. Remember, Jesus had not yet taken up His own literal and physical cross. Also, Jesus does not call followers to excessive “self-forgetfulness”, as it is sometimes called, so that neglecting one’s self leads to self-inflicted suffering. This behavior and attitude could be a psychological issue- unmitigated communion. Jesus does not call us to grin and bear it, whatever the ‘it’ might be. Jesus calls you and me to deeper wholeness and spiritual connection.


Taking up your cross in a metaphorical sense means taking up your identity as a follower of Jesus. The cross would later be turned into cheap jewelry, tacky tattoos, and gaudy bedazzled handbags associated with Christianity. The cross at this point was a very public and painful form of execution.


On the issue of suffering and the cross, followers of Jesus are not called to create suffering for themselves or unnecessarily accept suffering. See Mary VandenBerg’s illuminating article on suffering here. Suffering may happen, but redemptive suffering is Christ’s alone.


Instead, believers and followers of Jesus Christ are called, commanded, implored, to take up their cross- take up wholehearted, all chips in, Christ-following primary identity. Christ-following primary identity includes offering humanity & dignity to the least of society [Matt. 10:42], knowing true spiritual poverty, meekness, righteousness, mercy, purity, & peacemaking [Matt. 5:3-9], loving enemies [Luke 6:35], obedience to Jesus’ commands & teachings [John 14:15], receiving and giving service [John 13:5-14], and faithfulness to the Church [Hebrews 10:24-25].


Jesus’ other uses of this phrase, “take up your cross”, appear in Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23, “Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me”.


Taking up your cross has more to do with lived Christian identity, letting go of oneself, and less to do with further self-obsession or misguided self-suffering.


“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” [John 14:27]


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Megan
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 00:46:33

    Love this! Thanks for writing this, Erica! 🙂


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