In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, Jesus tells the crowds and his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
What it means to take up the cross is often misunderstood. We’ve all heard people respond to some physical or mental suffering by saying, “that’s my cross….that’s just the cross I have to bear.” Perhaps worse, battered women were told for years to “bear the cross” of the physical and emotional abuse of their spouses.
There is nothing Christian in being subject to spousal or child abuse. Christ’s words were never intended to invite women and children to endure abuse from their batterers. And there is nothing Christian about the various forms of physical and mental suffering that exist in the world today, whether they be caused by another person, a natural disaster or anything else.
When we pay attention to the entirety of Jesus’ message, which links denying oneself and taking up the cross, we get a more accurate understanding of what Jesus was trying to convey to his listeners. The cross of which Jesus speaks is the cost of discipleship, the difficult and sometimes painful consequences that flow from following Christ, from putting Christ first.
The cost of discipleship can sometimes be high. But at the same time that Jesus invites us to live a life of self-surrender, he promises that “whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”