Over at Creedal Christian, Canon Bryan Owen shares a provocative thought from theologian John Howard Yoder. Yoder says that we misrepresent Jesus when we go around describing all kinds of sad events as "bearing one's cross." It challenges my last post (and many others) in which I present my family life as an effort to follow Christ. The quote that made me take notice was:
"The cross of Christ was not an inexplicable or chance event, which happened to strike him, like illness or accident. To accept the cross as his destiny, to move toward it and even to provoke it, when he could well have done otherwise, was Jesus' constantly reiterated free choice. He warns his disciples lest their embarking on the same path be less conscious of its costs (Luke 14:25-33). The cross of Calvary was not a difficult family situation, not a frustration of visions of personal fulfillment, a crushing debt, or a nagging in-law; it was the political, legally-to-be-expected result of a moral clash with the powers ruling his society."
I would agree with Yoder that the cross of Christ wasn't some random tragedy. Jesus challenged his disciples to turn from "normal" lives under the curse of inevitable death and to follow him into lives fruitful for the Kingdom of God (Luke13:1-8).
But Yoder goes off track when he disdains family struggles. True, they can be the sort of meaningless dark comedies that have nothing at all to do with the Kingdom of God. But if we are to have a "moral clash with society's ruling powers," a Christian's family life certainly is an arena for it.
To hold onto a marriage in unsatisfying or even bitter seasons is counter to a culture that extols personal satisfaction and serial relationships. It is a painful, costly choice to stay put when divorce is "no fault" and there is more social stigma for staying than for running to the exit. To stay is to honor the New Testament version of love, which imitates Christ by putting others ahead of one's own interests, and is manifested in constant choices to forgive, hope and endure with kindness.
Yoder seems to be saying that the cross is visible only in the histrionics of political activists, a common perception from the religious left. In other words, a tenured Ivy League Professor of Gender Studies, or a TV reality show exhibitionist who weeps about climate change on Oprah, these are examples of the cross of Christ. A couple of married schlubs enduring sickness, financial challenges and disappointments but laboring to honor and care for their family are not.
In tomorrow's Gospel for Advent 3, John the Baptist - one of the Bible's activists - is in stereotypical prophetic fury, calling people "snakes" and presenting a wrathful God who is coming with "the axe and fire." He is approached by the Roman Empire's tax collectors and soldiers, despised regional "recruits" paid starvation wages to help "pacify" their neighbors. (Northern Plains note: government-employed Indian Police took part in killing Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.)
Does John the activist call for "activism" as proof of righteousness? Does he exhort the tax collectors to mount a general strike or the auxiliaries to lay down their arms? No. Even in Luke, the account of Jesus most often lauded for the "social justice" applications of his message, we hear John say, "Confess your sin and be baptized. Then just do your job and don't abuse others." Admit your need for God's mercy and start making choices costly to you but merciful to those around you. That's the righteousness of God - the righteousness ultimately displayed and perfected only by Christ on his cross. Christ is the righteousness of both activist and schlub, and of all who place their faith in him, obeying his words and suffering for them.