These words of our Lord are often misused. The “cross” one must take up is viewed as some sort of burden to bear: a physical or mental illness, a bad relationship, poverty, working with difficult people. The list of the burdens of this life are seemingly endless. Those who equate the “cross” with “burden” spend lots of their time and energy in self-pity. O, woe is me. God has given me this burden. I must endure it with grace and dignity since I am a Christian.
Not! God does not place burdens on us so we can prove we are worthy to call ourselves Christians. Yes, God can use and does understand our suffering. He desires nothing more than to take our hurts, disappointments and pain way. He loves us so much that he sent his only Son to die on the cross to take away our sins and bring us to eternal life.
But in Matthew 16, Jesus is not talking about suffering for the sake of suffering. Rather, he is talking about denying one’s self in order to follow him. Believers are to deny their own selfish desires to do the will of the Father, to do what is necessary to follow Christ. Our focus needs to shift from this world’s priorities: financial success, popularity, and comfort to God’s priorities: love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16:25-26)
Doing this requires that we die to ourselves daily. We must submit completely to the will of God, forgoing our wants in favor of God’s. This does not mean that in order to follow Jesus we have to give up everything, go live in the woods eating nothing but “locusts and honey”, sleep on the ground, or to go without clothing. It does mean that we must sacrifice those things we doggedly hold on to and treat as gods. We must do an inventory of those things that keep us from complete submission to God. Instead of picking up the cross of burden, we lay all we are, all we have, down at the foot of the cross.
What can you give up to follow God? How about that over-priced latte so that you can use the money saved to feed the poor? How about your desire to sleep in on Sunday or go to breakfast with friends so you can spend time in worship hearing God’s Word and receiving the Sacrament? How about turning off the TV and your phone for fifteen minutes a day to read the Bible? How about prioritizing how you spend your time to serve at a soup kitchen? You get the idea. To take up the cross and follow Jesus requires we make major shifts in our lives. But in doing so, we gain what the world cannot give us: abundant and eternal life.
Learning to lay it all at the feet of Jesus,