Thursday, August 18, 2016

20 Mysteries: Jesus Carries His Cross

Matthew 10:38:

[38] And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me.

Matthew 16:24:

[24] Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Luke 14:27:

[27] And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

Matthew 11:28-30:

[28] Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. [29] Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. [30] For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.

Mark 15:20-21:

[20] And after they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own garments on him, and they led him out to crucify him.
[21] And they forced one Simon a Cyrenian who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and of Rufus, to take up his cross.

Luke 23:26-31:

[26] And as they led him away, they laid hold of one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country; and they laid the cross on him to carry after Jesus. [27] And there followed him a great multitude of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented him. [28] But Jesus turning to them, said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me; but weep for yourselves, and for your children. [29] For behold, the days shall come, wherein they will say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck. [30] Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: Fall upon us; and to the hills: Cover us.
[31] For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?

John 19:16-17:

[16] Then therefore he delivered him to them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him forth. [17] And bearing his own cross, he went forth to that place which is called Calvary, but in Hebrew Golgotha.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

In this mystery, the character of Jesus' suffering takes on a new dimension. In the previous mysteries, Jesus is a passive participant in His suffering. What He endured -- the agony, the physical torment, the mockery -- He endured passively. He was a participant in these sufferings by the fact that He allowed them to occur, but He was passive in them.

In this mystery, Jesus becomes an active participant in His suffering. He deliberately takes up the cross, the symbol of Roman torture and death, the central symbol of His own suffering and death. This is an important lesson for us. Suffering is central to Jesus Kingdom. We shouldn't run from it when it comes to us. But more than that, we shouldn't be unwilling participants, and simply accept that it has to happen. We should actively accept, to take hold of, the suffering that comes to us, to embrace it as a gift from the Father.

Note, however, that Jesus never went out of His way to cause harm to Himself. Moreover, there were certain occasions in His ministry wherein He deliberately avoided harm (think about when the people of His own district drove Him to a hill to throw Him off of it, but He escaped).

This act, then, must be understood within a specific context: the context of salvation. Jesus' suffering wasn't meaningless. He accepted this for a reason and at a specific time (both in history and during the Jewish sacred calendar), and in a unique way. He embraced the suffering of this, His Passion, for the redemption of humanity and the salvation of souls, accomplished during the Pasch, that the angel of death would pass over us, and as High Priest in the order of Melchisedech.

Thus, our suffering should likewise not be without meaning. It should not be sought out, nor endured for its own sake. Our suffering should be embraced within the context of our own redemption and salvation, offered to the Father through and with Jesus, being made perfect by the perfection of His own offering.

But be certain, for Our Lord Jesus warns us, "he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me." We must accept the crosses, the sufferings, the come to us. Discipleship of Jesus requires it. But don't be afraid of this, because Jesus promises us something else; He promises us that the cross is sweet and light.

Take My Yoke Upon You

For anyone reading this who doesn't really know what a yoke is, I'll explain, and I'll be honest, this information is relatively new to me too, so don't feel bad.

A yoke is the wooden crossbeam that goes across the shoulders of two animals, such as oxen, and is attached to a plow or cart that they are, together, pulling. Check out this image to get a better idea:

In the Passion narrative, the obvious image of this is Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry His cross. You can imagine Simon bearing one arm of the cross, and Jesus bearing the other, as two oxen yoke with a burden. Well, when Jesus tells us to take His yoke upon us, what else can He mean but His cross?

On the one hand, Jesus tells us that, if we are to be His disciples, we must take up our cross daily and follow Him. On the other hand, Jesus tells to take His yoke upon us. There is a hidden mystery here. Our cross is His yoke, and His yoke is our cross. This is because Jesus has already lifted the burden of our sins upon His shoulders. Whether we pick up our crosses or not, Jesus has already done so. The true weight of the cross is not found in the sinews of its wood. Rather, it is found in the terrible cost of our sins.

Our cross is Jesus' yoke. The cross He carried to Calvary is really our own. The truth is that Simon of Cyrene wasn't helping Jesus carry His cross, Jesus was helping Simon carry his. And whenever we take up the responsibility of our sins, each time we accept the sufferings that belong to us, we stand in the shoes of Simon of Cyrene, and we accept the yoke of Jesus' cross, because it's our own.

And since Jesus is already doing all the heavy lifting, we really own bear a small portion of the burden. A small portion of the burden of our own sins.

But there are two more mysteries associated with this yoke. The first is that, because Jesus' cross carries the weight of all sin, from all men, through all time, when we take up His yoke, when we unite our sufferings to His, we really take up the yoke of the sins of all men with Him. This is why, when we unite our sufferings to Christ, and carry even the small burden that we do, we carry it on behalf of all men, of all who suffer and sin. This is why our own suffering can merit the relief from suffering of others, such as those who suffer in Purgatory. It is because the cross is one, and if we pick it up, we, with Christ, pick it up not just for ourselves, but for all.

And this draws us into the second of these two further mysteries: that those who are yoked together move together. This is true. When two animals are yoked, they cannot go their own ways. As one moves left, the other must also move left, or they do not move at all. As one moves forward, the other also moves forward.

It is fitting that Jesus calls His cross a yoke. For when we pick up the cross, and bear this yoke upon our own shoulders, we become yoked to Christ. As He moves, so do we. In the mystery of the cross, Jesus works through us. This is revealed further when Jesus tells us, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me" (John 15:4). Insofar as we pick up our crosses daily and follow Jesus, He works in us. This is because by pickup up His cross, we are yoked together, and what work we do, He does. This is why Paul tells us that it is not he, but Jesus through Him, who works.

And the promise that Jesus makes to us, if we pick up His cross daily, is this: "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light."

Weep Not Over Me, But Weep For Yourselves, and For Your Children

So, in light of all of this, what Jesus tells the weeping women begins to make sense. Though the suffering that Jesus is enduring is terrible -- remember all that has gone before, and even after His crowning with thorns, they remove the purple robe, reopening all the wounds on His body, replacing His old robes back on Him, then forcing Him to walk through the city to a country hill, carrying the wood of the cross upon which He is to be executed; humiliation, excruciating pain, the terror of impending death, and the impossible burden of bearing the weight of this cross -- though His suffering was terrible, it is nothing compared to sin.

Weep for sin, and the sins you commit. "For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?" What shall be done? It is wickedness, evil action, sin that Jesus tells them to weep for, not His suffering. His suffering is redemptive, it brings about healing and easement. Do not weep for that! Weep for sins! For, because of sin we are condemned to suffering and death and eternal damnation. Sin dries up the fertility of our souls. It leaves us barren. There will come a time when that which is evil is called a blessing. Weep for that time.

When we are able to see with the eyes of Christ, our hearts will be turned. We will not run away from the cross. We will embrace it, as He did, as a beautiful remedy to the ills that plague our world. We should not be sorrowful over suffering. Our sorrow should be over evil, over the evil we commit, and over the evil we see others commit. This is the true tragedy of our world, not that there is suffering, but that there is sin!

In the face of our own failings, then, the yoke of the cross becomes a balm, which soothes our souls, and our consciences, and heals our friendship with God. So, let us each pick up our cross daily, stand in the place of Simon, and yoke ourselves to Christ. He is already carrying our burdens. Let us share in it.

God bless.

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