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Discover Why the Cross Was Put on His Shoulders

Proper 7, Year A, RCL, Track 2

Jeremiah 20:7-13, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39

Grace and sin. When we sin, grace is received when we turn from that sin. If we sin again, we, again, receive grace when we turn from that sin. Paul, in the letter to the Romans, is doing some simple math. He proposes if we sin and repent, sin and repent, over and over again, then it seems that we will receive more and more grace. Clearly, he suggests that there is a flaw in this logic. The flaw Paul points to is that if we live in Christ, we will strive to not fall back into sin. As impossible as this is, it is what we are called to do. We are to make our lives an example for others, for if we have died with Christ in our baptism, then we live with him now and for eternity.

If we live with Christ, with the deep abiding love that penetrates our very being, then why would we intentionally enter into sin just to find the grace of forgiveness? I believe there is much more grace in being a righteous person, a person who strives for justice and empathy for our neighbors. Through our striving, and the difficult task of being righteous or more holy, we pick up our cross, we do the more difficult act because it is the right thing to do. The righteousness I am speaking about is not self-righteousness. It is not about acting one way in front of a certain group of people and another way with others. It is about seeking the image of God within ourselves and in all people.

Righteousness has a rather negative connotation in our culture. The root of the word, right, is to be straight, think of a right triangle. Working towards true righteousness, being in line with God and God’s ways, brings us closer to God, which makes us a bit holier. This needs to be done with care for it can be easy to fall into the trap of ego where we become self-righteous or holier-than-thou.

I believe this is what the Prophet Jeremiah is struggling with. He has been called to accomplish a difficult task; to tell the truth about God to people who would rather live life as society sees fit. Jeremiah says he tries to fit in, hold his tongue, and not speak as he feels compelled to do. But the holding in of this calling fills him till he burst with the word of God.

Some might look at this passage and see a man filled with anger or rage, or even self-righteousness, but this is not what’s going on. While it is true that the people he knows are not kind to him, examining him, waiting for him to stumble, they can find no hypocrisy. They know, at least on some level, that Jeremiah is telling the truth and that they have turned away from the Lord. Because of their own guilt, they push harder against the truth and Jeremiah. They push further away from God. This obviously upsets Jeremiah but it is the actions of his people that deeply disappoint him. Jeremiah is clear in what he has been called to do and he doesn’t mind taking a stand for righteousness. If we put this into Christian vernacular, the disappointment Jeremiah is feeling, the ridicule he experiences, is what we would call taking up your cross. It is following the Lord regardless of what others think and taking a stand for what is truly right.

Faith is radical. It often goes against the norms of society. We see this in the Old Testament, when the rules of the Jewish faith, rub the government the wrong way. We can think of Esther and her father. We can think of Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego. They stood up for the basic tenets of their faith. They would not bow or recognize anyone or anything as being higher than their God, our God. As a result, they were imprisoned, sentenced to death, and even executions were attempted.

We have similar examples in the New Testament with Paul’s trials of not following Roman law and his imprisonment. We see the beating, and execution of martyrs, starting with St. Stephen and continuing for centuries. And we have the ultimate example, Christ himself, who displayed acts of kindness, charity, empathy, and love. And because he was helping the undeserved, going against religious tradition, those in power and authority felt threatened. They felt that through violence, physical removal, and the eventual execution of Christ, the problem would go away. But all of us know that the “problem” is well and alive. As Christians, we are now part of this same “problem.” Helping and caring for those whom society would rather discard.

A predominant story in the news this week demonstrates how millions of dollars were spent over five days, with international military and private efforts to search for five people in a sunken submarine. Yet, less widely spread news, tells of the 300 people in the Mediterranean who died when their boat capsized. Yes, these were refugees fleeing from Pakistan to Greece. But when people are seen as a problem, the value of their lives seems to diminish as well. We know from Christ’s example that this is not how we are to act.

Picking up your cross is a challenging task. In doing so you will not be able to make everyone happy. You will not be able to just go with the flow. And while it is true that not all of us are willing to step out in such a way. And believe me, I get it. I do think we should consider why Christ carried his cross. We often believe that it was for the forgiveness of our sins. And though this was the outcome of his crucifixion, the cross was not placed on his shoulder for this reason.

When we discover for ourselves why the cross was put on his shoulders, then I think we may find it a bit easier to understand what our cross is and why we may need to carry it. In all the synoptic Gospels, Christ tells us to pick up our Cross and follow him. And whoever does not, cannot be his disciple.


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