Grace and Peace to you.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
I lay down my life for the sheep. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.
—John 10.15, 18
To take up your cross and follow Jesus means to be gentle and loving in the face of abuse—but it does not mean to be a victim, or to put up with injustice. It does not mean that you suffer for the sake of suffering; it means that you are loving for the sake of changing people, beginning with yourself. Taking up your cross is different from being a victim in that it is free, it is loving, and it is for the purpose of transformation.
The cross symbolizes our injustice and all the ways we hurt each other, whenever we judge, exploit and dehumanize people. It symbolizes the abuse of the weak by the strong. Jesus suffers the cross in love, not in fearful submission. He “takes it up,” freely entering into suffering that is not his (he is innocent) in solidarity with all who are judged, both the guilty and the innocent. He endures it with love toward all who despise and abuse him.
He does so freely. His life is not taken from him; he lays it down of his own accord, from a place of power—not the power of coercion, but the power of love, the power of God.
And he does this as an act of insurrection/resurrection, to transform both himself and his persecutors. He confronts evil and robs it of its power. He who is innocent faces our condemnation, he who is gentle faces our violence, and he denies them their power and authority. He does this to draw his abusers (including us) into his love and forgiveness. He does it to change us.
It is wrong to tell victims of injustice—a woman in an abusive relationship, workers denied rights, the millions who are exploited and persecuted—to “take up their cross” by enduring their suffering in silence. That is just imposing another cross on them. According to our baptismal vows we take up the cross by “accepting the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”
We do not turn the other cheek in helplessness, we do it as an act of power. “I have the power to lay it down,” Jesus says. We do it in love and freedom, in order to change the situation. We feed the hungry, befriend the prisoner, defend the rights of the poor and oppressed, confront systemic evil and change power structures not as victims, but as agents of change, because we trust that when we lay down our lives in love, resurrection happens. And the point is not suffering. It’s resurrection.
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes