In the May - August 2008 issue of Homily Service, Debra Dean Murphy invites preachers to consider the specificity of Jesus’ command that his followers take up the cross.
The familiarity of verses 24-26 has often led to a tepid and confused theology of the cross; one which assumes that my private anxiety - a difficult relationship, financial hardship, uncertain health - is my personal cross to bear. While certain forms of emotional of physical suffering may be redemptive, the cross Jesus speaks of in Matthew 16 and elsewhere does not represent the sum total of our personal worries and aggravations. It is, instead, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer claimed, the suffering that comes from our allegiance to Jesus Christ alone. The cross, Bonhoeffer insisted, is not random suffering, but necessary suffering; it is rejection for the sake of Jesus Christ. Verse 27 (where the LM concludes) is in keeping with Matthew’s general insistence that judgment will be meted out according to deeds, action, performance, and not according to what we say, think, or feel. Verse 28 seems to indicate Matthew’s belief that the Son of Man’s coming was imminent. This verse and others continue to preoccupy some Bible readers, causing them to create timetables and offer predictions of Jesus’ return. They would do well to pay closer attention to Jesus’ teaching about the way of the cross and the cost of discipleship.
The public religiosity of American society exceeds that of the rest of the industrialized West. Is the American obsession with the imminence of the “end times” indicative of a psychological desire to have the opportunity to suffer for the sake of Christ on the part of those who believe that their ordinary lives afford them no such opportunity?
Debra Dean Murphy is Assistant Professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College. She serves on the board (and is an avid fan) of The Ekklesia Project. She is the author of Teaching That Transforms: Worship as the Heart of Christian Education