Embracing the Cross: A Lenten Meditation on Mark 8:34

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how." (Mark 8:34 The Message)

Jesus' words fly in the face of everything our culture tells us.

Aren't we supposed to be leaders? Don't we have to take destiny into our hands and charge forward?

Aren't we supposed to take control of our lives? Live it as we think best?

Aren't we supposed to soothe our hurts and deal with our wounds so as to get rid of them? Don't we choose to avoid suffering and pain and conflict and difficulties?

Don't we deserve the best? Haven't we earned success and wealth and position and power? Don't we have the right to claim whatever we feel we need from God?

According to Jesus, we have to let him lead. Let him run things his way. This instruction is for all his followers - not just his disciples, not just his closest friends, not just the religious leaders, pastors, professionals. For everybody.

Let Jesus lead, and he might just lead you to the cross. But, he says, don't hesitate. Don't avoid it. Embrace it.

What does this mean in the life of garden-variety followers like you and me? Are we really going to get killed because of our faith? Probably not. But, when we seek to bring Jesus' loving justice into this world, we might run into all sorts of opposition. We might be shunned. We might even lose a few "friends."

Some years ago just before the war in Iraq began, the Day1 radio program featured a sermon by the Rev. Barbara Lundblad, one of our listeners' favorites, who encouraged each of us and our nation as a whole to take a hard look at our self-assumed right to be in charge. It's a message that's as timely as ever.

Drawing a parallel between Naaman, the mighty warrior who sought to be healed of his leprosy by the prophet Elisha, and our country, Barbara urged us to assume an attitude of humility, to listen to our neighbors around the world, to seek to obey God's commands even when they make little sense.

We had an unusually high number of requests for sermon transcripts that week--the message struck a deep chord in most listeners. On the other hand, we also received a few strident phone calls from good Christians excoriating us for our anti-Americanism. One man called a half dozen times to curse at us for daring to question America's status as the leader of the world.

He may have missed the point of the message, but his reaction demonstrates how much most of us-on both a personal and a national level-prefer to be in charge, on top and in control. We don't naturally embrace the path Jesus took, the path of humility, justice, and suffering.

No, humility isn't something we naturally want to do. It may not even be the American way. But it is Jesus' way. It's the way of life Jesus wants us to embrace. Even if the results are painful.

By the way--that man who called half a dozen times to rail against our program? His final call was one of humble apology. His pastor had encouraged him to settle down and realize that our intentions were honorable, and that while we might disagree on some major issues, we are still brothers in the faith.

That's a beautiful example of letting Jesus lead.

A prayer:

Jesus, sometimes I think I try too hard to understand what it means to follow you. I spend so much time trying to make sense of it that I never get around to actually doing it. You carried a cross for a purpose. You have a cross for me to carry. You call me to put my own needs and desires and interests behind your own and follow your example into the unknown. It feels very big. Yet it also feels very simple. It's what I want to do. Help me do it. Amen.

[Adapted from Out of the Quiet: Responding to God's Whispered Invitations.]