Today we return to Luke 14, where Jesus counsels his followers to give up their idolatries if they would be his disciples. Now we note the hardest part of this call: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” What does it mean to carry the cross? We usually begin our interpretation in physical terms: We must be prepared to endure suffering with a courageous spirit if necessary. To Jesus the cross meant much more than physical suffering.
Why does Jesus himself take up his cross? Not to be a hero or to demonstrate great courage, but for the sake of love. He could avoid the cross by retreating quietly to Galilee and abandoning his ministry. But he would have to turn away from those who have experienced him as the Incarnation of God’s love. Taking up the cross, with its painful death, is a supreme gift of love for those to whom he has ministered and to all of humanity. Jesus’ teachings are important, but the cross represents an expression of love beyond words.
So how do we take up the cross? In rare circumstances it can mean physical martyrdom. More often it means lovingly accepting those our society’s prejudices and stigmas reject no matter the social consequences. Even when society then casts us aside, taking up our cross means we do not reject those who have rejected us. Instead we repeat Jesus’ words from the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). We invest our whole self in God’s loving purposes, knowing that in the long run, God’s grace will prevail and that in the short run, taking up our cross is the key to abundant life.
O God, your grandeur surpasses our understanding and your grace fills us. Even in our weakness, we seek to follow Jesus, the one who gave his all out of love. Amen.
Jeremiah brings another warning of impending judgment. If the people will not turn to the Lord, God will break the nation and reshape it, just as a potter breaks down and reshapes clay on a wheel. The psalmist praises God for God’s intimate knowledge of each one of us. Even from the moment of conception, God knows us and has a plan for our lives. Philemon is often overlooked, but it packs a punch. A text that some used in the past to justify slavery teaches a very different message. Paul warns Philemon not to enslave Onesimus again but to receive him back as a brother. Secular power structures have no place in God’s kingdom. In Luke, Jesus uses striking examples to teach us that the life of faith cannot be lived well with half-hearted commitment.
Read Jeremiah 18:1-11. As clay, how can you better respond to the Potter’s guiding hand?
Read Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18. God knows you better than you know yourself, yet God has given you the ability to make your own decisions. How do you respond to God?
Read Philemon 1-21. How do you honor the full humanity of those who serve you through their work?
Read Luke 14:25-33. What does it mean for you to take up the cross in your life?
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