Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cross to bear?

For quite some time I've been bothered by the way we folk often use the expression, "that's my cross to bear."  We say that to refer to our hangnails, difficulties at work, hard to handle children, or any number of life's miscellany that presents us with an inconvenience or challenge.  In the book From the Library of C.S. Lewis I came upon this passage from C.H. Dodd this morning.  He says what I've felt but been unable to articulate as well.

It has been taken to refer to habitual forms of self-sacrifice or self-denial.  The ascetic voluntarily undergoing austerities felt himself to be bearing his daily cross.  We shallower folk have often reduced it to a metaphor for casual unpleasantness which we have to bear.  A neuralgia or a defaulting servant is our "cross," and we make a virtue of necessity.  What Jesus actually said, according to our earliest evidence, was, quite bluntly, "Whoever wants to follow me must shoulder his gallows beam" - for such is perhaps the most significant rendering of the word for "cross."  It meant a beam which a condemned criminal carried to the place of execution, to which he was then nailed until he died.  Jesus was not using the term metaphorically.  Under Rome, crucifixion was the likeliest fate for those who defied the established powers.  Nor did those who heard understand that He was asking for "daily" habits of austerity.  He was enrolling volunteers for a desperate venture and He wished them to understand that joining it they must hold their lives forfeit.  To march behind Him on that journey was as good as to tie a halter around one's neck.  It was a saying for an emergency.  A similar emergency may arise for some Christians in any age.  In such a situation it is immediately applicable, in its original form and meaning.  For most of us, in normal situations, it is not so applicable.  But it is surely good for us to go back and understand that this is what Christ stood for in His day.  We shall then at least not suppose that we are meeting His demands in our day bearing a toothache bravely or fasting during Lent.