Scripture Reading: St. Mark 8:31-38; 1 Peter 5:5-11
The step of humiliation immediately follows that of self-denial: “Let them deny themselves, and take up their cross…” Jesus undoubtedly chose this graphic figure of speech because he himself was to be crucified. Although it was a particularly gruesome Roman mode of execution, crucifixion was known universally. For us, the blow is softened and its meaning obscured under layers of familiarity. We are more accustomed to seeing crosses as adornments rather than symbols of ridicule, which makes it reasonable that we would question its meaning for us.
It is a mistake to call all our suffering our cross. “Many people think that a cross is any kind of trial or hardship you are going through, or any kind of handicap you must endure — like a mother-in- law, or a ding-a-ling neighbor or a physical handicap. ‘That’s my cross,’ we say. But that is not what Jesus means. He himself had many handicaps, many difficulties and trials he endured before he came to his cross. So it is not merely handicap or difficulty or trial. The cross was something different” (Ray Stedman).
The cross stood for shame and humiliation; it was a criminal’s cross to which Jesus was nailed. It was a place of degradation where he was stripped naked, demeaned and debased, and so the cross stands forever as a symbol of those circumstances and events in our experience that humble us, expose us, offend our pride, and reveal our inherent weakness. Any circumstance or incident that imposes this on us, Jesus says, if we are a disciple, we are to welcome. “Take up your cross, accept it, cling to it, learn from it, because it will reduce you to the place where you will be ready to receive the gift of the grace of God.” That is why the cross is essential and excruciatingly meaningful to each disciple. This does not mean only the big things in our life; the smallest things are included as well. Every inconvenience, each frustration, all of life’s disappointments are minor forms of the cross at work in our lives if we have a disciple’s viewpoint. If we are to be Christ’s disciples, we are not to be offended by these things, not to get upset about them; instead, we are to embrace them. The cross demands that we learn every time we fall so that we may rise from ashes more clearly resembling our Lord.