The Unforgiven-ness in the Cross

Matthew 16:21-28

Take up your cross. Why did Jesus tell his disciples to take up their crosses? Did he mean it literally, as in, “Wear a gold cross around your neck or put it on a bumper sticker as a sign to the world that you confess me as Lord and this will be a sign for the world that the one wearing it is forgiven by God?”

cross of pain and rejectionThe cross is the iconic image of pain. It’s an image of death. The cross was never an image of forgiveness. It was quite the opposite.

As Jesus was speaking to his disciples, the cross was a sign of unforgiveness and rejection for the person who was impaled upon it. No person nailed to a cross is forgiven by the one who is holding the hammer.

Modern Christianity has deftly flipped the image to dress it up. The cross is now a badge of honor, a visual sign to remind the wearer (and the observer) that God has graciously forgiven the one who wears it (and he or she is damn proud of being forgiven, an inheritor of heaven – the good life after death).

I readily agree that many have received great comfort in understanding the love of God through the image of the cross.

I’m afraid decorative crosses remind rich Christians that God forgives them even though they hoard their riches with the plan of living in comfort for forty years after they retire. Then when they die, having been forgiven for their greed and avarice, they will live the good life in heaven, too. How sweet it is being a Christian.

I’m afraid the poor wear crosses as reminders that even though their cross-wearing sisters and brothers in Christ don’t love them enough to help them today, God loves them enough to feed them like the sparrows and clothe them like the lilies – and they will have to wait for the good life after they are dead. But at least eternity will be good.

It’s not the cross that saves people who continue to cry out in hunger and pain in this life. Life is about today. You and I, living out the example of Jesus, are sent in baptism to be saviors of the poor, sick, and imprisoned as we follow the example of Christ.

At this point in history, the only rejection some people experience by wearing crosses is because it links them with the loud, hate-bearing Christians who condemn everyone and everything but themselves. They are not following Jesus as they hit everyone with their crosses. I don’t want to be associated with them for the false-Christianity they spew.

Did the disciples understand what Jesus meant by taking up a cross? I’m assuming they did. It must have been a common thing Jesus had explained to them before. And it must have been common to all the people who would be hearing Matthew’s version of the good news. If it wasn’t common knowledge, Matthew would have explained it right then.

The cross is a sign that the person placed upon it is unforgiven. No mercy will be extended. This person is not redeemable and must be eliminated so the status quo can continue.

Jesus was preparing his disciples for what to expect if they followed his example. Some people will hurt you, vehemently oppose you, even to the point of taking your life.

The religious leaders of the day had the power and ability to forgive, to let go, of the unorthodox teachings Jesus had been proclaiming. They placed their rules and rituals and traditions ahead of the work Jesus had been sent to accomplish – bringing unity and peace to the bodies, minds, and souls of the broken. They placed the riches of gold and silver that lined their temples and their pockets ahead of the health and education of the sick and imprisoned. Jesus was a threat to their lifestyles.

As history records it, the religious leaders and those in powerful positions would not forgive Jesus for stepping out of their box of neatly packed, but life-draining, self-serving, and harmful regulations. He was a threat to the social and religious order designed by the healthy, wealthy, and privileged. You can’t oppose those with power or money without being verbally and sometimes physically beaten, and then hung out to dry.

Take up your cross…and follow me. To follow Jesus didn’t mean to walk meekly behind him, wearing a cross around your neck, and pointing out the faults of everyone. To follow Jesus meant to follow his example. Feed the hungry. Heal the sick. Help the prisoners. Proclaim God’s desire for a world of peace, justice, and equity for all people (the kingdom of heaven) – not just for the privileged.

If you do this and follow the example of Jesus, just be ready to be unforgiven by those whose bulging barns are being torn down so they can build bigger barns.

I wonder if those who wear crosses today would still wear them if they understood that imitating Jesus risks being placed upon that cross, as one who will be unforgiven when they stand up for the poor, the sick, the broken-hearted, and the prisoners?

One day, I pray that the cross will assume it’s original meaning to convey this idea, “I stand up for the poor, the sick, the broken-hearted, and the prisoners…and I’m proud to wear it even at the risk of your anger and rejection. I’m willing to bear that pain as one who is following the example of Jesus Christ.”

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One Response to The Unforgiven-ness in the Cross

  1. Judy Atkins says:

    Thank you for this message! Very poignant and perfectly timed. Blessings!

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