Reflection for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
Fr. Rev. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
Once upon a time, an atheist went to church for the first time out of curiosity. Incidentally, the preacher gave an excellent sermon on the rewards of carrying one’s cross. The preacher encouraged everyone to carry their cross daily and experience amazing benefits.
Returning home after his first ever church service, the atheist went straight to the kitchen where his wife was preparing lunch and carried her up. She was delighted and amazed because it was very much unlike him.
The next morning when they woke up, the first thing the atheist did was to lift the wife, not minding her weight. Now she became curious and asked. What is this new thing about carrying me each time? Then, he opened up and said, “the best thing I heard in the church during my first visit is that we should carry our cross every day!” The wife didn’t find it funny anyway.
The Gospel Reading (Luke 14:25-33) tells us that great crowds were traveling with Jesus to Jerusalem, and he turned and said to them: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple”.
Looking at this statement closely, we discover something very significant. The narrative says that great crowds were traveling with Jesus to Jerusalem. Imagine yourself in an airplane with other passengers who have nothing in common with you apart from the fact that you are going in the same direction.
From the initial statement, we understand that Jesus was trying to distinguish between co-traveling and coming to him as a disciple.
Many in the crowd were traveling with the Lord for reasons unconnected to his mission. So, he wanted to make it clear that there is something larger and more rewarding than traveling with him to Jerusalem, which is discipleship with a cross attached to it, which transcends family affiliations and possessions.
What is the Cross?
One of the significant points in the narrative of the passion and death of our Lord is where it says that Jesus carried his “own cross” (John 19:17). Note here that the cross was personal to Jesus, and he freely took it upon himself.
The cross of Jesus Christ was beyond that piece of wood. It was a symbolic representation of the load of our sins and the punishment that is due to them. The prophecy of Isaiah (53:4-5) captures it very well when he says: “He took up our pain and bore our suffering … He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed”.
We can find an accurate description of a cross in the above passage from the prophet Isaiah. Cross is the pain or suffering we bear in the name of the Lord and for a good reason. Life is full of crosses; most times, we need a cross to cross over certain situations in life. Life without a cross is not real.
Carry Your Own Cross and Come After the Lord!
What we have learned so far is that every cross has an owner. Therefore, while cross-carrying is advisable, it is more rewarding to carry your own cross. But, unfortunately, one may go through life carrying the wrong cross without knowing.
In the instruction of our Lord, Jesus says, “whoever does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” A closer look at this statement shows that carrying your cross is not enough; you need to come after the Lord while carrying it.
Someone can carry their cross and go in the wrong direction. Recall that Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). The point here is that your cross is valuable only when it aligns with the Lord. So, there must be a “Christification” of every cross we carry; otherwise, it will be meaningless.
Moving Forward: What’s Your Decision?
One can imagine that many in that crowd who were traveling with Jesus may have turned back when he prescribed hating family and carrying one’s cross as preconditions of following him. But, of course, the cross was not a good idea for the people at the time. It was not only a symbol of public ridicule but also a curse (Deut. 21:23, Gal.3:13).
Our Lord Jesus is addressing us today as he did those traveling with him to Jerusalem. But, of course, most people would prefer traveling with the miracle-working Jesus and not the suffering and crucified Lord.
Carrying your cross is a very productive way of identifying with the Lord. Did you know that your cross could be that health situation challenging you? Your cross could be your spouse, your children, or other people around you who bring sadness instead of joy, and you must put up with their excesses. It could be what you are passing through now!
In life, there is always a cross to carry, but the good news is that when you take your own cross and go after the Lord, he will see you through it all.
By the way, your cross will not crush you. Instead, see it as the key to your victory. Cross can be an acronym: Christians Running Over Satan and Setbacks.
God bless you!