If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.Luke 9:23-24
There are a variety of calls to be “crucified with Christ,” “take up your cross daily,” and generally to let go of one’s selfishness and obsession with our own concerns throughout the Bible and many other religious traditions. I think, though, that the image of Christ in these particular cases adds a layer that is important but easy to miss: Jesus does not only stand for himself, but for all who are deprived, oppressed, and looked down upon. To be crucified with Christ is not a call to a self-help style letting go of day-to-day anxieties so we can retreat from the realities of society or get back to productive jobs. It is not simply a command to get rid of the negative parts of ourselves to become some abstractly better person. It is a challenge to stand (or fall) in solidarity with those who are cast out by others.
When we consider any statement about Christ to only be about the one person named Jesus in the gospel stories, we imagine a Jesus who would have failed to follow his own instructions. He makes this clear to us time and again, that he is any person among the “least of these.” Jesus is not one man, but all people who are poor and disempowered in the dominant structures of the world. He does not call us to take up our crosses to reach some personally rewarding higher level of consciousness or to take on a purer state that will grant us entry into an afterlife. Jesus instructs us to take up our crosses so we might find our place among and work alongside those already bearing the crosses which were forced upon them.
Furthermore, Jesus did not instruct people to take up their cross as a single action, but to do so daily. It’s an act that he knew we would all be tempted to carry out once in a while when it was suitable. When we put ourselves in a more vulnerable position or respond to the needs of marginalized people over our own once in a while, we feel noble and self-important. We’ve stooped down to the level of another for a moment, knowing full well that soon we can stand up straight again and carry our riches in our pockets rather than a wooden symbol of death upon our backs. We’re called to take up our cross daily because there are always those whose crosses cannot be put down, even when they feel they can’t bear it any longer.
We’re told to carry our own cross, but not where we will find it. This is not a command to wallow in our own self-pity or to sacrifice ourselves meaninglessly to alleviate guilt, but to find the cross which we are led to carry today by the Spirit. For many of us, that may require putting aside some of the comfort and safety we’ve been unfairly granted based on race, class, gender, or other unearned privileges. It means looking for where Christ is in the world today and standing alongside him, her, or them. It means being willing to give all we have to destroy the death-dealing social structures that send some along that path to Calvary so others can walk the road to Rome. Our cross is somewhere today, but the world has built up a myriad of structures to hide it from us. We need to take up our cross, and likely someone else is already carrying it.