"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."--Jesus Christ (Matthew 10:37-38).
During a Wednesday evening class at the Park Plaza Church last month, Harold Shank (http://www.haroldshank.com/) and Peter Cariaga shed some new light on these words of Jesus. I understood that Christ was calling on his disciples to be willing to die for him, but I did not understand how the original hearers would have processed this information. They probably would not have been looking ahead to Jesus' death on a cross as an example of taking up their crosses. They would have been looking back several decades to the days when the foreign terrorist Alexander Janneus ruled over Jerusalem.
The Jewish people hated the savage Alexander Janneus. When he arrogantly attempted to sacrifice an offering at the altar of the Temple, the Jews became enraged at his contempt for their God, pelting him with fruit. The idolatrous tyrant reacted by killing 6000 Jews.
After another rebellion by righteous Jews, Alexander Janneus ordered the crucifixion of 800 Jewish men. Crosses littered the landscape outside Jerusalem. While those men were slowly dying, their wives and children were brought to their crosses and slaughtered before their eyes. While faithful Jewish people were being murdered under his orders, Alexander Janneus was enjoying a feast with his concubines.
When Jesus called on his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him, he was calling them to exhibit a loyalty to him that rivaled the commitment of righteous Jews to their God in the face of a barbaric enemy. Christ was calling his disciples to follow him despite cruel opposition, pain, and torturous death. He wanted his disciples to embody a tough faithfulness. He promised that he was worth it.
Christ is calling for the same kind of faithfulness among his followers today. Let's not deny him or his words when opposition, pain, and even death await. He is worthy of our loyalty.