a biblical reflection, based on Mark 8.27-38, for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, September 13, 2015
In my earlier reflection (September 9: carry a cross? part 1 – what it might have meant “back in the day”), I shared my view of Jesus’ intent at the moment of his first utterance. Now, I consider the image of the cross as symbol. Does it still work?
In the 1st century, the cross was an unmistakable symbol of self-sacrifice and denial, suffering and death. In the Roman Empire, crucifixion was a chief, always successful form of capital punishment. When one was crucified, one died. What greater sacrifice could there be than one’s life?
In this post-modern era, I wonder how suitable, workable, meaningful is the cross. A symbol is a symbol because it points beyond itself to a reality (either not visible or easily expressed), conveying its significance immediately and universally. If any of us wonders what does the cross mean or to what reality does it refer or what contemporary daily resonance does it have, then it’s not a symbol, but only two pieces of wood, metal, or stone attached, however artfully, perpendicularly.
Today, we may need something else, something better and more fitting that we can carry for Jesus’ sake. A briefcase or satchel. The ever-popular book bag or backpack fully accessorized with IPhone, IPad, or whate’er our preferred electronic device. Each, more than the cross, is a recognizable and attractive symbol of life in our day and time. Each has a handle, allowing us to carry it conveniently and efficiently. Each as a burden of our own choosing is a more relevant symbol of who we are: purposeful and resourceful, capable and willful.
All musing aside, I still believe in the cross. Precisely because it is a symbol of self-sacrifice and self-denial. And, in that, it represents the lengths to which one might go to gives one’s self to others, truly to give up one’s self for others. And, in that, it is a symbol (though it might be beatified, being made of precious metal, finely carved wood, sculpted stone) of a bloody, tragic death, which was the real result of real engagement with a real world. And, in that, because it is a symbol that reminds us that our lives are to be spent in the service of others. For in losing our lives, we find them – writ large in personality and possibility through our real connection with the real world around us.
Illustration: Crucifixion, Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge, 1894
Drawing: freehand in pencil
 For this idea, I am indebted to the writings of theologian Kosuke Koyama (1929-2009)