What is Not a Cross? - 9/19/2021
Link to Gospel Reading: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
MARK 8:34-38; 9:1
The Lord said: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.
So many Christians today whenever they talk about their daily suffering, whether be it from a health condition, from an unhappy marriage, from a financial situation, from a work that is hard and unrewarding, or even from a family member, they would say “This is my cross”. Equating their suffering with the cross. Unfortunately, for many of them, in their minds and hearts, what they truly mean is that, Christ died on the cross, and I am a Christian, and there has to be a cross somewhere in my life for me to be a Christian. Hence, the suffering that I face everyday is the cross. End of Story. And if we inspect that logic a little deeper, we would find two things: 1. An underlying wrong belief that “The Christian life is hard or even God is harsh and has to send suffering somehow to the person because the Christian life cannot be completed without suffering.” 2. We forget that the suffering is a result of the fall of Adam, and every person in the world on planet earth is suffering from something, and only one fraction of these people are Christians, hence according to the first point, God is sending a cross to everybody even the non-Christians!
So what is the Cross?
The Lord said: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Follow me where to? The Golgotha, to be crucified. Many Christians say that they are carrying a cross, but they forget that we have to follow Jesus to be crucified. Many Christians wander around carrying their crosses, but they don’t follow Him. They keep wandering around in their lives carrying their cross to nowhere. Hence, they lose the most important opportunity in their lives, which is to make use of that cross to follow the steps of Jesus to be crucified and then be resurrected with him. They spend their lives in needless suffering that did not help them spiritually. Because the reality of the matter is that adversity in and of itself is not a cross, it is when we carry it where Jesus is, then this suffering becomes a tool in the hand of God to transform us more and more into the likeness of Christ. The actual cross was used as a tool for hundreds of years before Christ, and nobody before said about their suffering, this is my cross. Only Christ was able to transform the Cross from a tool of death into the gate of eternal life.
What does that mean? Let me give a specific example:
Say a woman is married to an insensitive husband, where he does not care for her, nor respects her feelings, and always ignores her. This is definitely a hard marriage to be in. So the woman is constantly suffering. What this situation will reveal in her numerous feelings of: anger, low self-esteem, frustration, unsatisfaction, loneliness, unforgiveness, etc… Without Christ, suffering from these things daily will bring her to despair. And all of these negative emotions are just a natural reaction to her tough situation. How is this a Cross that will bring her to salvation? This suffering in itself is a tool of slow death. However, if she brings these struggles to Christ, then this suffering becomes a mirror of her weakness, and shows her that the grace of God is able to heal her from these emotions and sins. She then discovers that what she really needs is Christ, and Christ only. We understand the reason that God allowed such adversity in her life if we imagine the opposite. If her marriage was good, and her husband was caring, then she would never be able to realize her need for God, and hence those sins will be hidden and work in her like cancer without her knowing. So God allows those adversities so sins are revealed and consequently healed. Hence, this woman is more and more is becoming like Christ. Then, and only then she is able to say with St. Paul as he said today in his letter to the Galatians: I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; . It is not my sins, but the Grace of God. This is what God did with Job.. Job had the sin of self-righteousness, and only through severe adversity God was able to show him that he had this sin, and heal him from it.
Christ in His eternal and infinite love, asked us to come to him when we become weary of carrying our cross saying: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:29). He did not promise to take away our cross, but promised us to give us rest through Him. May God always give us enough energy to bear our crosses and to grow in Him, Amen.