“Jesus invites us to carry the garbage of life up that hill, to die with him, and to be raised up triumphantly and joyfully like him.”
2nd Sunday in Lent
by Paul Kadrmas
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
What on earth are we supposed to do with today’s Gospel?
First, Jesus starts telling his disciples that he is going to be killed brutally. Peter doesn’t like it one bit and tells Jesus off.
Jesus answers by saying, “Get behind me Satan, because you are thinking of human things instead of divine things.” Then he tells them all to take up their crosses and carry them to death.
Wait, what? Why is he being so harsh with them? And what does he mean about taking up your cross anyway?
Sometimes people talk about hard things in life — obligations, worries and other burdens — as their “cross to bear,” the weight of suffering which we each must dutifully carry.
Plugging that into our story, Jesus seems to be telling us to pay our dues – to suck it up, pull our weight and quit thinking about ourselves and this hard life; relief will come someday when we’re dead. When we exchange human things for the divine and leave this awful life behind.
Ugh. What a drag.
Well, this story says something very different than that, and it is good news!
It isn’t because Jesus commands us to pick up our crosses and carry them. You see, it’s because we’re already toiling away carrying them around on our backs – and they are very heavy human things.
I think of a woman in Florida I know through church. She is the sole caretaker of her husband who has Alzheimer’s. Between that struggle and the fact that she doesn’t have a car, she can’t get out for a little while, even to go to church. It’s a lonely struggle and a very heavy, yet human cross to bear.
I think of our soldiers who have come home from Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam before that. They’ve seen their friends die next to them. They’ve seen children shot to death. They’ve had to make split-second decisions whether to take the life of another human being. And they are often left with deep psychological scars. Such human experiences; such heavy crosses that they carry.
I think of a pop song that hit big last year, sung in the voice of a woman who parties without self-control. She continually goes out, looking for a good time. Looking to get drunk. Looking for a one-night hook-up. 1-2-3, 1-2-3-drink. And then comes the shame… comes the shame. Shame is a heavy cross, and also a very human thing.
I think of those who can’t make ends meet. Among Americans who carry credit card balances from month to month, we carry an average of more than $15,000 per household in credit card debt. It’s a crushing weight. It’s very human and a heavy, heavy cross.
I think of each one of us who tries desperately to measure up. To keep up with the Joneses. To keep up with expectations. To have a nicer car, a bigger TV, a newer smartphone. More, more, more, more. We can feel like we’re never good enough. This, too, is a heavy cross to bear.
I think of the one in four women who have experienced violence at the hand of a husband or boyfriend. I especially think of those who stay because they feel they somehow “deserve” it, or those who stay because “he might change” and it’s just their cross to bear.
I think of you students of the youth correctional center. Does it sometimes feel like this, the things you’ve done, an addiction you fight, like these are the things that define you? It feels heavy, doesn’t it?
I think of the way we even turn good things into crosses. My web browser has a list of bookmarks a mile long. And what’s really crazy is how much I’d like to treat life like that. I wish I could somehow bookmark every good thing – every moment that I don’t want to lose to the past. But trying to hoard good things turns them into a heavy thing pressing down on my back as I refuse to be really present in the world now! But I’m human.
I’m like Peter in today’s Gospel, unable sometimes to see the divine, getting lost in the human things. We all are. No matter how heavy it gets, we insist on carrying our crosses of guilt, shame, pride, arrogance, duty, poverty, condemnation, ambition and falling short. We toil away with our crosses of jealousy, anger, bitterness, mistrust, deceit, heartbreak, loss, illness, grief, addiction, stress, trauma, fear and despair.
We carry these crosses, sometimes because of some sadistic, self-defeating choice of our own, and sometimes just because life dealt us a rotten hand. And like the cross of any other crucifixion, they are brutal instruments of death. But they are human things, and we can’t help but claim them after all – because we are human.
And so here’s where the good news comes in. The divine which we can now see:
As we struggle down the road under the weight of our many crosses, Jesus meets us there. He promised his disciples – and us – that he would walk that hard road and carry that heavy cross out from the city of Jerusalem, out where the lepers and outcasts and criminals would go. He’d carry it up the hill of Calvary. And he calls us to get behind him with all these human things we carry and follow him.
For we are to go up that hill with him where together we will die on these crosses. Our old, weary, burdened selves will die like thieves right alongside the Son of God who calls us his own brothers and sisters.
Then right along with the cross of Christ, our many heavy crosses can be cast aside. We will no longer need them, and they will have lost all of their power over us. They no longer define who we are!
So does this mean death is to be our relief? No.
You see, Jesus’ disciples all missed these little words that he said: “…and on the third day rise again.”
It’s Lent now, time to think about our human things and to recognize the crosses we carry. But people of God, Easter is coming!
Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul in Romans, chapter six:
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Jesus is not commanding us to suck it up, quit complaining and carry our weight. Instead, he is inviting us to carry the garbage of life up that hill, to die with him, to be raised up triumphantly and joyfully like him. We still have work to do: Maybe counseling or AA meetings, keeping in touch with mentors, getting into a plan to pay down credit cards, or finding a way out of abusive relationships. But these are part of God’s plan for us to finally put down the old crosses and be truly free.
We are invited into new life with him, to carry each other, to be filled with love for this beautiful creation and to live as new people of God. Now. In this world.
For a final confirmation that this call to pick up your cross is good news, let me leave you with these words from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Thanks be to God.