Luke 14:27 says, “Anyone who doesn’t take up the cross and follow me can’t be my disciple.”
Somehow, in some warped theological way, this line has been turned into the concept that following Jesus requires bearing our personal burdens as a sign of our dedication and devotion to our faith. We should humbly accept our suffering because, well, Jesus suffered first and suffered so much more that we should be honored to stand in suffering solidarity with him. Twisted theology says that our illnesses, our messed up relationships, our brokenness, hurts, pains, struggles should simply be another way that we glorify God and we should be willing to gratefully and joyfully take up that “cross” and follow.
(To hear the audio version of this sermon, click here.)
In my humble opinion, this interpretation is just plain wrong… on so many levels. First, it suggests that a loving, compassionate God both gives us suffering and wants us to suffer. Second, this theology has been used as a manipulative tool to keep people in abusive or negative situations. Third, it is not anywhere close to what the original passage intended.
So, let me try to unpack this a bit.
Putting the passage in context, Luke was writing to an audience in the early years of Christianity, probably 40-50 years after the death of Jesus. Persecution of Christians was a very real situation. So, Luke, in his gospel, makes it clear, through his story of Jesus talking to the first disciples, that following Jesus should be carefully considered before jumping in.
At this point in the gospel, Jesus has been provoking the powers that be – Jewish and Roman – and the danger to his life is imminent. If anyone was going to follow him it wasn’t going to be a joy ride. They were literally risking their lives and they needed to understand that. To make this clear, Luke uses an image – “take up the cross” – that foreshadows Jesus carrying his own cross through Jerusalem on his way to his own crucifixion. The meaning is not lost on early Christian audiences… one must be ready to suffer the same fate that Jesus would suffer. It made perfect sense that the Jewish leaders and Roman government would not stop simply at putting Jesus to death, they would be perfectly happy to put his closest followers to death as well and ensure the death of the movement. Jesus was a pretty cool guy, but he was messing with the wrong people. One could not lightly jump on the bandwagon.
I DO NOT ANYWHERE see this as a REQUIREMENT to suffer, but as a potential consequence of the choice to follow. I repudiate any scholars that urge us to believe that suffering is a requirement of discipleship.
In middle-class America we are in the fortunate position to not have to risk our lives to follow the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps another way to look at this passage would be to say that Jesus’ disciples were “all in.” What would it look like for our spiritual lives if we were “all in”? How would we spend our time? How would we treat all other people? What role would prayer, study, meditation, and volunteering have in our lives? How would we spend our money? How would we take care of the Earth?
I think it bears contemplation. How far “in” are you?
Love & Light,