In speaking of his own suffering and death, Jesus told his disciples that they, too, must take up the cross. Lent has been a time for us modern day disciples to consider what this cross of Jesus Christ is all about. When we hear that we are to take up the cross, we often think of the cross as something personal. The personal affliction of an illness or some kind of problem. The challenge of dealing with difficult people. A traumatic event – a car accident, losing a job, the sudden death of someone we love. To the extent these kinds of life events are challenges, yes they can be described as crosses.
The cross that Jesus is talking about is indeed about facing personal challenges with the confidence that his grace is with us. But this is not the whole picture. Taking up the cross is also about doing what is right, not just for ourselves, but for the well-being of others. Jesus did what was right by doing the will of his Father and giving his life, out of love for us. This means in addition to our personal “crosses,” taking up the cross is about such things as promoting the dignity of the human person and protecting the sanctity of human life. It is about defending the rights of those who are mistreated, misjudged, discriminated against, or marginalized. A perfect example of taking up the cross in recent days is to advocate for the defeat of legislation that would legalize physician assisted suicide, opening ourselves to the criticism of many who would like to see such legislation enacted. Taking up the cross is about measuring all that we do by what we are first doing for those who have the least, as our Church says, manifesting a preferential option for the poor.
When Jesus told the disciples that they must take up the cross, he was not basing his instruction on some kind of wild chance that they might succeed. He said take up the cross because he knew it would lead to the victory of resurrection. The first disciples heard the words of Jesus to take up the cross differently than we do because they did not know the outcome, Jesus had not yet died. The difference between them and us is that we know the outcome. We celebrate Easter every year because we believe that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead. At times we hear the words “take up the cross” as if we did not know the outcome. As a result, the words “take up the cross” stay at the level of facing personal challenges and fail to also become a statement of action toward building the kind of world that God desires…for our good and the good of others.
The movement from Lent to Easter is the perfect time to think about how we hear the words of Jesus to take up the cross. With the grace of God we face the crosses of our personal challenges. The Easter victory is also about hearing those words as a call to action for the good of others in the bigger world, based on the conviction that with the power of Jesus’ transforming love new lives and a new world are possible.