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Monday, April 3, 2017

Take up your cross and follow me!

   As Christians, we have all read Jesus famous words, "Take up your cross and follow me!"   We think about them when faced with adversity or painful suffering for the faith.  I am sure that the people who were standing there listening to Jesus must have had their eyes bugging out of their heads when they heard it.   They knew EXACTLY what Jesus meant.  They had witnessed the brutal Roman execution method hundreds, if not thousands of times.   The Romans had used it on a group of Jews who had tried to start a rebellion and had lined the roads leading to Jerusalem with their crosses as warning to anyone thinking they could secede from Rome.  To Christians living today in countries where paying this ultimate sacrifice is as likely as a snow day in Miami, its hard to put into perspective.   We sometimes carelessly use this phrase when we face some sort of minor adversity, "Oh well we all have our crosses to bear!"  ( I have never liked this use of this verse )

    But I think Jesus was not only referring to the ultimate cost of being a disciple, but also the physical act of forgiveness.  One reason I believe this is because of one little word we overlook in the verse we quote,
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 
   That little word "daily" says it all.  For if Jesus was talking about carrying a real cross, then you certainly would not be able to do that "daily".  While, yes, we do suffer insults and harsh criticism for being a follower of Jesus, we don't often take on martyrdom for the faith.  However we must look more at this verse and ask ourselves this question: what was Jesus doing on that cross for us?   He lovingly picked up that cross-beam and carried it to Golgatha so our sins can be wiped clean before God.   He took the beatings, whippings, flogging and crucifixion so we would not need to.  He bore our sins for us to repair the relationship between us and God.

   So how does that relate to us?

   Jesus often talked about the need for us to forgive one another as we have been forgiven.  This forgiveness is not cheap.  It comes at a price.  It can be painful.  It can be difficult.  We are called to pick up our sin-bearing crosses as well for those who have sinned against us!   We don't do this grudgingly but are called to have the same mindset of Christ himself who
"For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God
   Forgiveness is often hard.  The pain that others have inflicted on us from their carelessness and lack of love for us .... hurts.  That pain is inversely proportioned to how close they are to us.  The closer the more painful it is.  

    Peter asks Jesus a "hypothetical" question when he asks:  "Lord how often should I forgive my brother?  Seven times?".   Sometimes I wonder which "brother" Peter had in mind when he was asking this?  Was it one of the disciples?  To this Jesus replies, "Not seven times, but SEVEN TIMES SEVENTY!"   This was akin the Buzz Lightyear phrase:  "To Infinity and Beyond!"

    The "sins of a brother" are more sinister than just the sin of a stranger.  The stranger has no desire to be in a relationship with us.  Because of this, those sins hold no power over them.  The sins of a brother are from someone who wants to be in a relationship with us, therefore they give us power over them.    We can dangle those sins in front of their faces when we want or need something from them. But that is not what Christ wants from us.   Christ was faced with the same problem.  The sins we have done against God were against him.  Yet he did not hold onto them.  He carried them to the cross and left them there.

   The other aspect that Jesus confronts with forgiving a brother "Seven time Seventy!" is that because we are in relationship with that brother/sister they WILL sin against us again.... and again.... and again.  It's been said that it's often easier to forgive a total stranger than it is to forgive a family member.  The stranger will be gone a few minutes from now, but a family member is near you constantly.   The stranger's offense is a one-and-done sin (like a bee sting) that hurts for a short while.  But a person close to you will hurt you on a daily, if not hourly, basis.   Like the scourging Jesus received from the Roman soldiers.  It can feel like it will never end.  You might think it's over (the time between offenses) like Jesus might have felt between the beatings.  But it's not!  The person was just reloading.  

   The easy way is the way Peter was hoping for.  He was hoping for a limit on forgiveness that would allow him to end the relationship and thereby end the pain they  might inflict on us.  You can almost hear Peter pleading with Jesus as he offers him his "seven times?" bargain hunting expedition.  Ending the relationship is always easier.  The problem is that we end up cutting all ties to everyone.  CS Lewis wrote in his book, "The Great Divorce", about driving through hell where people were separated from each other by light-years of distance.  They were not separated like that by God but by their own doing.  They would rather live all alone than be possibly hurt by their interaction with other people.

  That is not how Christ wants us to be.  He ended the separation between US and GOD.  We, as well, should take up our cross of forgiving others for the JOY of having them back in relationship with us. So we too should join him in his endeavor to heal broken relationships by taking up our crosses of forgiveness of those close to us as well.

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