we are kicking off a new series of conversations at our saturday evening gatherings over september & october focused on the ways of Jesus, using the scriptures from the church calendar. this past saturday eve we started with this very tricky passage from luke 14 where Jesus tells the disciples to really count the cost, what it means to follow him. here’s what part of it says:
A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. - verses 25-27
many of our first reactions to this passage are “ouch.” that is rough. hate our parents? isn’t Jesus supposed to be about love? and what happens if we can’t pick up our cross all the way, does that mean we don’t get to play? there are so many different angles that this scripture can go, but the direction that we went on saturday eve was toward the crazy, paradoxical ways of Jesus and how what seems so heavy, so hard, is actually lighter than we think, better than we think. and that is what the kingdom of God is like.
so many of us are waiting and hoping for an easier path, a smoother road, a way-to-escape-the-pain-and-suffering-of-this-real-life-we’re-living. i am in this club. i have this crazy idea in my head that “once i’m done with this, once this happens, once that happens, then everything’s going to be easier.” and the reality is that every time i turn the next corner, a new corner appears. because life here on earth is not about smooth, easy, pain-free, or prosperous.
i think that’s what Jesus is saying in this passage, what he’s reminding us of–the cross is a powerful symbol because it is the place where Jesus, the one who was supposed to conquer the oppressors and set all things right in a practical sense, actually ends up dying (temporarily). it is the wild paradox of Jesus. instead of redeeming everyone in the practical sense, he ends up redeeming everyone in the spiritual instead, in the places of our heart and experience that have nothing to do with money, power, or ease. and when he tells us to pick up our cross, i think he’s telling us that this means a life of paradox, too. that in the midst of the hard stuff, it will somehow be better. that even though our crosses seem heavy, somehow in-a-supernatural-Jesus-way, they are also lighter. that the gospel is complicated when it’s contrasted with the ways of the world, yet it is also profoundly simple–love God, love our neighbor as ourselves.
i personally am not crazy about paradoxes because i like all good, all easy, all my-way. yet, something that i am continuing to learn is just how powerful it is to embrace that both exist at the same time.
i believe that living the ways of Jesus means leaning into this idea not just in words or intellectual conversation, but in the deep parts of our experience–individually and as a community. sometimes every part of me screams “yes, this is what i want!” and then another part of me is stomping up and down saying “but, i can’t, i won’t, it’s just too hard.” i think that’s why we need to keep seeking God’s strength & hope and why we need each other so much. to encourage each other to pick up our crosses. to share the load, to look in each other’s eyes and say “yes, this is hard. but it’s better.” this is a good path to walk. and even though sometimes it feels like we’ll die along the way, somehow these crazy ways of Jesus actually bring more life.