Tumbling in the Sand
“He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” -Mark 8:34-35
There is this idea out there that if you are really faithful to God, your life will be really good. And by good, that means that you will prosper financially, that you will be happy, that you will succeed by all the world’s standards. There are a few very popular preachers out there who make this claim. Probably the most popular these days being Joel Olsteen, but there are many others and, at times, I think we all have a tendency to at least hope this sort of thing. It’s probably why Joel is so popular.
The thing is, such ideas don’t really jive with what Jesus is saying here. Not even close. Uh, take up your cross? Lose your life for Jesus? Deny yourself? Doesn’t sound much like an easy life. Doesn’t sound much like a “successful” life, in terms of what our society thinks successful is: you know, wealth, self(ish) fulfillment, power, prestige, etc…
Here’s the thing: Jesus doesn’t promise an easy life. Jesus promises the way of the cross. Jesus promises us that really following Jesus will lead to our own deaths: death of our selfish ways, death of our selfish interests, death of our tendencies to turn in upon ourselves. Death to the world’s understanding of success.
But here’s something really important: the cross that Jesus calls us to doesn’t stop at death, but leads to new life and redemption and resurrection. Which means that unlike the crosses of the world that simply weigh us down, that tell us to bear with oppression, that tell us that suffering is good for us, that tell us to act like doormats in the face of violence, the cross of Christ calls us to take up crosses for the healing of the world, for the work of the resurrection, for the redemption of those who suffer under oppression, for the freeing of those being weighed down by crosses put on their backs by the powers of violence and empire.
The cross that Jesus asks us to pick up is for the sake of the gospel—which, Jesus demonstrates again and again in the gospel of Mark, is about healing and freeing and restoring and reconciliation. And that, indeed will lead to a good life—a very good, rich, overflowing, roller-coaster ride, amazing life—though it certainly will be a different kind of good than what we’re taught to long for in this world. But, as Jesus says, “what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”
Featured image: Taken (by me) at the SOA protest in South Georgia, outside the gates of Fort Benning.
Related post: Taking up Your Cross (sermon on the same gospel text)