And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple.”. Luke 14:27
The gravity of these words seem to pale in comparison to the strong statement that accompanies, verse 26 , that unless one hates his family and his life also, he cannot be a disciple. Whatever harmonizing suppositions certain doctrines of faith attempt to make of these two verses, the heart of them remains half in shadow. How does a directive of hate belong to reconciliation? What is this cross that must be borne?
A short study of the Greek will let a little light in.
The word /cross/ is used ten times in the Pauline epistles, generally as ‘the cross’ apparently referring to the deed of Christ. In the Gospels it was used five times. Once , at the end of John, we read, ”And He, bearing his cross, went out to…Golgotha.” In Matthew, Simon is “compelled to bear His cross,” and then some passersby deride Jesus to “come down from the cross.”
On two occasions though, Jesus himself refers to a cross.
In every instance, the Greek word is /stauros/ which translates: a stake or post, as set upright in quite a literal sense. To which is added the figurative analogy as meaning: exposure to death, i.e. self denial. Strong’s words, not mine.
Stauros is from the base /stao/ which translates: to stand (transitive or intransitive, literal or figurative)– abide, appoint, bring, continue, covenant, establish, hold up, lay, present, set(up), stand.
With this in mind, let us allow the verse unfold in its natural form.
“And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple.(28)For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it.”
To bear one’s cross is compared to counting the cost of building a tower. The cross is the cost. What,then, is being counted? What is the cross?
In my more rebellious years, it was not hard for my young mind to hold onto the argument that it wasn’t a literal, that is, physically literal cross at all that Jesus historically hung upon. I first heard the notion from an individual who would come from his home as a prison minister, and call me personally out of my cell to talk to me about the Bible. Mind you, from a certain denominational perspective, but nonetheless I can’t help but think about the degrees of consideration one must take in hand when dealing with the minds of youth.
The idea that Jesus was tied to a stake rather than an actual cross is an image that can easily cause the naive to stumble on the path toward truth. But if we were to take alone the Greek word translated as cross, we could, in fact, understand the argument- because /stauros/ by itself is “specifically a pole.” Which would still leave verse 27 wanting for a definition, of course.
Another adaptation towards understanding has been given us by popular theology in the figurative “definition” of the word – exposure to death, i.e. self denial. Which, if used for Jesus’ direct words to the disciples in Matthew 16, becomes a redundancy inconsistent with the context.
For perspective, we will examine this from a few angles. In relation to the complete abandonment of father, mother, house and home of verse 26, the extreme cost of discipleship would certainly equate a small death in comparison to the “self denial” of current culture, which might translate into refraining from any over indulgence, in effect maintaining the physical body by controlling the usual human impulsivity. In other words, a self-denial that means discipline. With the abandonment of home(26) and the self dicipline(27)then, the attention may be directed to a point between two poles: Self and Christ. To which I would add that, in this context, a persons ability to conceive of the reason for the above commands is by nature, hidden. That is, one doesn’t initially consider that both the physical body that must be controlled as well as the relative hereditary conditions that must be departed from, are consequential to the so-called “fall” of mankind and that the denial of both is in fact a type of – placing behind- one self the things that came before. Placing behind oneself all that one has identified with up to that moment that he or she considers the extent of being a person amongst a seemingly infinite line of people that came before, as well as placing behind one self vast stretches of time that proceeded up to our being able to look up to the sky in a physical body and say “I am” to an incomprehensible Spirit. This process of becoming is hidden from normal thinking.
These are certainly not the first things that come to mind when we meet the words of the definition of the cross as, “self denial.” It might be simple to say, but the implications are not so simple. Does Christ know the implications of what he says?
Let us move to another angle. If the doctrine of the word /cross/ spoken by Jesus is emblematic, or figurative of a certain exposure to death of the self, then we might connect this imagery with at least two distinct parallels.
Paul’s reminder to the Ephesians, and similar passages, could be the most common connection. As in verse 4:22, “to put off the old self… be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new self.” Given in a context leading to the doctrinal Body of Christ, the disciplining of the actions based on wrong thinking is the directive conceptualized as “putting off the old man,” as another attempt to give the necessary grounds for a communal mentality where one puts off selfishness in place of selflessness as a realization of “the truth in love,” by which, “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Eph4:15. cont. pg2