Schadenfreude in Jesus' time
Growing up with two siblings, I would often get a small twinge of happiness when one of them was in trouble. One of the perks of having to live with siblings was enjoying these moments of happiness. On one level, it was a pleasure to know that they had done something wrong; on another level, there was the happiness that comes from witnessing the disciplining process. Sometimes, if I was feeling particularly bold, I would do my part and offer some unsolicited advice for punishment. This never went well. I was a great brother.
In our gospel story this past week, I imagine the disciples have similar feelings as Jesus, after being rebuked by Peter, says in response, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” I can almost envision John, Matthew, or any of the other disciples subtly raising their hands to offer some unsolicited advice for Peter’s punishment. But before they can offer their ideas, Jesus turns to all of them and says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I imagine that everyone in that group sat there, stunned by the force of the statement. I have heard and read this statement hundreds of times and it still stuns me. How could it not? Take up your cross and follow me.
Despite the force and timing of the statement, let’s be clear about one thing - this is not punishment. Jesus is not punishing Peter or any of the people who are gathered around at that time. “Take up your cross” is not a consequence; it is a calling. It is a calling to a love that struggles to take root in a human world.
It is a calling to love in a way that doesn’t seek blessings, but instead bestows blessings. (1 Peter 3)
It is a calling to love in a way that isn’t measured by fruits of labor, but rather by the fruits of the Spirit. (Galatians 5)
It is a calling to love in a way that is not rooted in fairness, but in grace. (too many to list)
We are all called to take up our cross and follow Jesus. We do this by using our time and our gifts to put love into action. Bakers are called to bake. Speakers are called to speak. Encouragers are called to encourage. Healers are called to heal.
Though there may be times when this sounds like a punishment, the invitation to take up our cross is a calling to turn our eyes on divine things. It is a calling to love the world the way God loves the world. For it is only this type of love that can truly create new life in a world marred by death.