Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
We often hear people say, “I guess it’s my cross to bear.” Or someone says to us when we are struggling, “This must be your cross to bear.” It is an often used phrase, but what does it mean and does every struggle qualify as a “cross to bear?”
The cross that sets the standard for all of us is the cross of Jesus. It was Christ’s willingness to go to the cross, to not flee, that sets the standard for sacrifice and courage. None of us can duplicate that. Nor are we expected to. Even Jesus did that just one time. And he calls us to take up our crosses “daily.” That must be every day and not just once. So what does he mean?
Taking up a cross is the act of willingly sacrificing. It isn’t just about suffering. Some suffering comes to us from time to time and it isn’t a cross at all. It is just a bummer. Getting sick, the death of loved ones, and all sorts of tribulations can come our way. In and of themselves they are not crosses – they are life. These things are just as likely to happen to non-Christians as they are to happen to followers of Jesus.
What makes a cross a cross is decision. A cross is not something we receive, but something we “take up.” In other words, when we choose to do extra work, give up something important to us, etc. – always on behalf of others – that is a cross and one that we are called to take up daily. As Jesus modeled that his cross was for the sake of the world, the crosses we take up daily are for the sake of others as well. That is what defines a cross. It is a sacrifice chosen to benefit someone else. And for Christians, this is to be a part of our daily lives.
This means that how we treat others, how we spend our time and money, and how we engage the world around us matters to God. Our faith may promise life beyond death and into eternity, but it is also very much concerned with how we live in the here and now. Following Jesus isn’t always easy. We are all called to take up our crosses regularly. But it is the way to life and when we discover that, following Jesus brings life to us and to others.