This past week, we got to hear about who Jesus is as Messiah and how Peter wants to Jesus to be Messiah. Mark 8:27-38 if you would like to read it. For Peter, the Messiah is not someone who goes to death on the cross, but someone who puts to death all those who resist God. So Jesus lets Peter know exactly what is going to happen – that Jesus will be handed over, crucified, and go to death for everyone – and then to be resurrected to show that death lacks power over God and all who believe in God. Even more so, God invites all who believe in him to take up their crosses and follow. We are invited to live, and to die, for the sake of others, like our Messiah. This is even for the very people that hate us and persecute us, and we are to die for them.
And this difficult, borderline impossible even and not just for Peter but also for all of us. First, most of us like living without persecution and suffering, especially for our enemies. Second, we don’t like our enemies enough to give them a candy bar, so why would we die for them? They after all are our enemies. Like Peter, we would rather see them suffering and defeated by God than to ever have to be injured ourselves for their sake. Would each one of us want to carry a cross so that ISIS or the folks in Guantanamo could go free? Would we carry a cross for that family member who has never seemed to like us? Or would we carry one for a death row inmate?
Each of us was born and raised in a society that uses violence to dispense of hurtful and violent people. It is a way of life that is normal for us. There are also so few examples of cross-bearing that seem to have paid off – at least for those that suffered. I wonder though, if God had something bigger in mind when he called us to take up our cross and follow. What if for God, it is about saving your enemy so that he too might live in Christ? Here’s my thought: If I kill my enemy, I have become like my enemy. I have adapted his ways and I have abandoned Christ for him. If I tell my enemy that God, the creator of all things cares for him, died for him, and I am willing to die too – that gives God a way to work within him. It gives him the chance to become like Christ.
Either way, I preserve my conscious always living in Christ. In the words of Paul, who knew what it was to suffer for the sake of his enemy, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
Okay – as I finish writing this, it dawns on me that this is still is really hard. Maybe tonight, and through the next week, say a prayer for the people that dislike you the most in the world or maybe even those that you dislike most in the world. Go for heartfelt and real and see if you can really care for them in prayer. Then conclude with ‘May God give me the strength to live and to die as he has taught us, and to keep us when we fall short.’