Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 56; 149, Nehemiah 13:4-22, Revelation 20:1-6, Matthew 16:21-28
You may have heard the expression, “Get off the cross; someone else needs the wood.” It’s generally used in response to someone who engages in showy, unnecessary, and/or self-inflicted martyrdom – probably over something trivial. It also implies the person is casting themselves in the role of a victim.
When Christ told his disciples “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” was he asking them to become victims? Perhaps if the only way we can define victory is through someone else’s defeat, we might think so. But the sacrifice Christ calls us to make is not just martyrdom to prove our loyalty to him. As his sacrifice was not for himself, but for others – for the world – so our own cross is not just about us.
In places around the world, simply declaring one’s faith may lead to a figurative or literal cross. In most of the western world, however, we are free to slap crosses on buildings, merchandise, jewelry, and even our own bodies without experiencing any real persecution. Since sacrifice is central to the Christian tradition, in the absence of actual crosses we manufacture persecution when we are forced to share public space and accommodation with people who do not believe or behave as we do.
Every year Christian culture warriors want us to believe a cheery utterance of “Happy Holidays” in the local big box store serving people of all faiths (and no faith) is an offense we need to confront with an aggressive “Merry Christmas” that represents Christ in an extremely poor light. It’s not enough to live our values, we want to force others to observe them as well. Did Jesus ever force anyone to do anything? We do it to accomplish the mental contortion necessary to bully our way to victimhood.
Focusing our attention on a cross no one asked us to build and draping ourselves in a shroud of victimhood may prove our loyalty to Christianity™ but not to Christ. The victory and sacrifice of the cross we are meant to carry is found in humility and service. In the absence of persecution, we are still fully capable of making loving sacrifices: patience, kindness, charity, not insisting on our own way, giving from our excess (and sometimes our basics) so others may have enough … all that Bible stuff.
Deep faith and witness don’t need to be branded with the cross like some product logo; when it’s real, people will want it without having to be sold on it. Tearing it down to give the wood to someone in need may be the biggest sacrifice of ego we can make.
Comfort: With Christ as our savior, we are never victims.
Challenge: Don’t look for reasons to be offended. Look for reasons to be merciful.
Prayer: O Lord, I put my trust in you. Thank you for the love that frees me from all other needs. Amen.
Discussion: Have you ever played the victim, maybe without realizing it until later?
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