Editors Note: This is the third of a six-part series on the “The Glory and Power of the Cross.” The articles also include discussion questions to allow them to be used in Lenten disscusssion groups.
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me (Mark 8:34).
These now famous words from Jesus appear in all three of the synoptic Gospels (Mark 8:34; Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23). They have two different interpretations. One interpretation focuses on suffering as a “witness” to the Lord. The other interpretation focuses on the suffering that we face as we “die to ourselves.” In this article, we want to focus on the first interpretation, asking what it means to carry the crosses that come to us in this life. In the next article, we’ll take a look at the power of the cross to help us die to sin and self-centered ways of thinking and acting.
We All Have Crosses. When we look at the call to take up our cross, we tend to think of the way God asks us to accept and embrace the sufferings and hardships that come from living in this fallen world. While we have a difficult time understanding why a good God allows his people to suffer, we all know what suffering feels like, and we can understand how it can be linked to the cross.
This kind of suffering can be physical or spiritual or psychological. It can range from cancer to the inner wounds caused by someone who persecutes you because of your faith. It can come in the form of a stillborn baby or in the form of a healthy child who is not doing as well as he or she could do in school. It can come from our standing up for innocent life in a culture of death, or it can come from having to endure the pain of a broken relationship. Whatever its source, we all have situations in our lives that we could honestly call “crosses” that we have to bear.
It is important to see, however, that before we accept or embrace any cross we may encounter, we should feel free to ask the Lord to remove it from us. Yes, Jesus told us to carry our crosses. But at the same time he himself healed many people. He removed their crosses because of his love and compassion. Just as Jesus removed the crosses from these people, there are many instances where he wants to remove ours. He knows all about our suffering, and he is with us. He loves to heal us.
The Mystery of Suffering. Experience tells us that there are some people who receive special healings from God and others who do not. This is part of the deep mystery of suffering. Some of the most prayerful and holy people are not healed, while others who have hardly any faith are healed. Some are healed after praying for just a moment, while others pray for years and are never healed.
It appears that St. Paul carried a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). This cross that Paul carried might have been some sort of sickness or a speech impediment. Whatever it was, Paul’s first course of action was to ask the Lord to take this cross away. In fact, he prayed for this relief on three separate occasions. Jesus, too, prayed this way in the garden of Gethsemane just before he was arrested. Yet neither Jesus nor Paul was spared.
So when a cross appears in your life, ask the Lord to remove it. Pray for healing. Use the same words Jesus used when he prayed. Or cry out like the blind beggar Bartimaeus, who would not be silenced: “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me! Heal me!” (Mark 10:46-52). God loves us and he wants to heal us. If your child were sick, would you just let him suffer? Of course not! You would want to do everything in your power to make him well again. If this is the way we who are sinful feel about our children, how much more will our heavenly Father pour out healing grace upon his children (Matthew 7:11)!
It is always good to pray—and to keep on praying. Never give up, even if you can’t grasp the mystery behind your suffering. Keep on trusting in God’s goodness and love.
(Joe Difato is the publisher of The Word Among Us devotional magazine. Many thanks to The Word Among Us (http://www.wau.org/ ) for allowing us to use his articles from their 2009 Lenten Issue. Used with permission.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion
The article begins with the Scripture passage from Mark 8:34. What is your understanding of this Scripture? How does it apply to you?
The article talks about the “deep mystery of suffering.” How would you describe this mystery?
We all have crosses to carry. Are there any crosses the Lord has lifted from your life? How did it come about?
Are there crosses that you continue to carry? Have you asked the Lord to remove them? How?
The article ends with these word: “It is always good to pray—and to keep on praying. Never give up, even if you can’t grasp the mystery behind your suffering. Keep on trusting in God’s goodness and love.” If you are in a men’s group. Take some time at the end of your meeting to pray for one another’s “crosses” and ask the Lord to remove them out of his great love and compassion.