When we remember Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, it is tempting to get caught up in an over-exuberant faithfulness toward self-denial, embracing the Way of the Cross, that verges on a full-fledged Messiah Complex.
- Yes, we are called to a life of self-denial. *
- Yes, we are called to “take up your cross and follow me.” *
- Yes, we are promised that we will only find life in our journey of releasing. *
* Luke 9:23-24
And Yes, Jesus entered Jerusalem that final week and seemingly did everything he could to get himself crucified. He stirred up trouble with every group of religious leaders, and then refused to defend himself when given the opportunity. (Mark 11-15) It could be tempting to follow his example.
Remember that numerous times Jesus avoided conflict and trouble, slipping away from the crowd rather than letting them take him to martyrdom. At the wedding in Cana he initially declined to intervene (John 2). In Nazareth the crowd was inflamed and sought to throw him off a cliff, but he slipped away (Luke 4). His brothers invited him to join them in Jerusalem and he said no, and then went alone, secretly (John 7:10). He repeatedly tells people not to reveal who he is. He says this to the disciples (Matthew 17), those he heals (Mark 7), and even to the demons (Mark 1).
Jesus had likely visited Jerusalem numerous times and seen the terrible things taking place in the Temple but said nothing. He likely witnessed many forms of oppression and violence without intervening. This does not mean that he condoned these things, or that we should. It seems to suggest that he had a very clear sense of his own calling and purpose, and that he would not let anything derail that –
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4)
Jesus’ public ministry lasted for three years, and he was an adult leader in his community for 15 years prior to that. He had innumerable opportunities to embrace his destiny on the cross, and he let them pass by, because “his time had not come.” (John 7) When his time finally did come, he knew, and walked with faithfulness and hope, into Jerusalem and ultimately to Golgotha. But even then, this was an end he neither desired nor sought. He had no death wish, no need to be a martyr, no longing for the glory among humans or the honor from heaven that comes with laying down one’s life. Not until he recognized the time had come for God’s plan to unfold did he, willingly if regretfully, yield to those who sought to destroy the kingdom, “taking it by force.” (Matthew 11:12)
So, whatever else Holy Week means to you, don’t get confused into thinking that God wants you to martyr yourself for the cause. In the vast majority of cases you are far more likely to be of use and service to God’s kingdom by staying alive, by living humbly and quietly and graciously with a passion for justice and a love for all people that expresses the love and peace you have found in God.
Taking up your cross and following him is not about literally getting yourself killed, at least not for most of us. It is about the many little self-denials and rejections that we experience and embrace because Christ calls us to something that the world does not understand nor know that it needs.