Carrying the Cross: Have We Misunderstood?

February 20, 2023

I can’t believe Lent’s almost here! 

It’s that time in the church year when we’re invited to reflect on Christ’s sacrificial love for us and sit in the profundity of that sacrifice.

The Lenten journey starts with Ash Wednesday when we recall the stark truth of our own mortality.  “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.” 

The statement of earthly truth. 

The black ashen sign of the cross is then imposed upon our foreheads as we begin the Lenten journey.

The symbol of sacrificial love. 

Those of us who claim to be Christians know what Christ said about that symbolic cross carrying love. We are to follow as we:

Heavy stuff.

Stuff we often misunderstand – or perhaps misunderstand.

Think about it:

When dealing with annoying people, challenging situations, or perhaps the consequences of life choices, what do we often hear and perhaps even say?

It’s just my cross to bear!” Words often accompanied by a sigh of martyrdom and a downcast expression meant to elicit sympathy!

Is this what it means to carry the cross? 

Or is this all just part of life lived in a broken world struggling against itself and within itself, in so many ways?  

The circumstances may or may not be a consequence of anything we have done or haven’t done (words of the confessional). 

The circumstances might result from the actions of another.

Heck, the circumstances might just be because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Not only that but such a martyr-ish (not a word) statement implies resignation and surely we’re to be commended for weathering our fate oh, so very well….sigh…after all, we are ‘doing it for Jesus!’

Really? Does this sound like Jesus?  

Such resignation, such ‘cross bearing,’ in my estimation, seems to be all about us not the Lord we say we follow and definitely not in keeping with His life and teachings!

Consider His life.

  • He healed the sick. He didn’t tell them illnesses were their crosses to carry
  • He told His disciples to care for the needy, hungry, the homeless, the widowed, the orphaned, the imprisoned. He didn’t tell them to ignore those who suffered because it was just ‘their cross to carry.’ 
  • He called us not to suffer broken relationships but to seek reconciliation. If reconciliation is seemingly impossible, we’re still to pray for our enemies. (Matthew 5:44)
  • If we are rejected we aren’t to stay and make each other miserable! (Matthew 10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5). Even Christ left His hometown of all when He was rejected (Mark 6:1-6)

Jesus never said: ‘suck it up, Buttercup, these circumstances are your cross to bear.’ 

Rather, Jesus said He came that we might have life in all its abundance (John 10:10b). 

To be clear that’s not the earthly abundance of the prosperity gospel, but the abundance found in a life lived in Christ (after all, Christ’s earthly life was one of earthly poverty yet eternal abundance – sort of flies in the face of the prosperity gospel, doesn’t it?)

Bottom line: life circumstances aren’t what it means to carry the cross. 

So what does carrying the cross of Christ mean?  

It’s not mission work.

Not community service and participating in the worship life of the church. 

It isn’t visiting the sick and imprisoned, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked.

These wonderful acts of following fill our lives with abundance, but I don’t believe that is what Christ means by cross carrying. 

Carrying the cross means putting aside our self-interest (dying to self/ego/personal entitlement) so that we might authentically follow Him. 

This is a circumstance few of us have ever experienced and it is an hugely uncomfortable place to be but it is the way of the cross: risking all that we are and all that we have the sake of Christ as the Spirit of the Christ works in and through us for the sake of another. 

Consider Jesus’ actions as He carried His cross to Golgotha: 

  • He comforted the women weeping for Him along the Way, knowing what lay ahead for them. (Luke 23:27-29)
  • He showed compassion by ensuring His mother’s care (John 19:25-27)
  • He showed mercy to both thieves on the cross – to one, assurance that this life is not all there is, and to the other a silence rather than judgment when confronted by that criminal’s hateful words. (Luke 23:39-43)
  • He showed forgiveness to everyone – even His enemies – praying that God would forgive them for their lack of understanding of their actions (Luke 23:34)

In all things, Christ embodies love in all its forms, no matter the circumstance.

The cross we are to carry is unconditional love and unmerited forgiveness for all.

The cross that Christ carried into a broken world is the hardest of all crosses to carry because the world lacks understanding and acceptance of that holy love and forgiveness.  

+ + +

We live in a time when love is indeed a box of chocolates, as Forrest Gump would say, you never know what you’ll get. 

After all, if we don’t like what we get, we can easily just discard it and no one would blame us:

  • If you are mean, I am off the hook of loving you.
  • If you say you’re sorry, and I don’t believe it, I can withhold my forgiveness – or at the very least weaponize ‘what you have done’ to me to be used against you in the future
  • If folks need my help to survive, I can pass them off to an appropriate agency rather than accompany the one in need to that place of help.

Unconditional and intentional love and forgiveness are hard crosses to bear.

Yet, this is exactly what I believe it means to carry the cross of Christ and follow Him!

Yeah, but … don’t give me that whole ‘easy yoke/light burden’ thing. (Matthew 11:30) I am not Jesus!  

No, but we are His disciples.

That remembered identity allows the yoke of the cross to become easier, and the burden to love to grow lighter. 


Because we trust God has not set us up to fail, (Jeremiah 29:11) but will be with us always (Matthew 28:20).

Knowing this truth, we are able to

  • stop judging others, because Jesus Himself didn’t judge. (Matthew 7:1-5; John 3:17, 8:1-11)
  • stop blaming but give folk the benefit of the doubt; perhaps “they don’t know what they are doing” or at least the full extent of their actions. (Luke 23:34).
  • stop passing folk off to agencies ‘paid to do this sort of thing,’ but claim our opportunity to serve another in the name of Jesus and for His glory. (Luke 10:25-37)

Perhaps when Christ said: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, …. teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19), He was also talking about cross carrying: unconditionally loving and forgiving all others as Christ has taught us so that we might model cross carrying life for others.

Such cross carrying will change the world.

Yet but…what if they reject, persecute, or even kill us?  

What if they do?  

Cross carrying isn’t the end – I have it on God authority!  

So what if….this Lent…instead of giving up chocolate or some such, we actually began carrying the cross of Christ?

And to God be the glory!  AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

2 thoughts on “Carrying the Cross: Have We Misunderstood?

  1. Thank you for providing the perfect thought-threshold for entering this Holy season. This will become part of my daily Lenten devotion.


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