“Let him take up his cross. . . “

by John Wijngaards, The Millhilliana 1974

“He that taketh not up his cross and followeth me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10,38). This passage occurs at the commissioning of the Twelve Apostles. We are accustomed to the metaphor of taking up our cross because we have the history of the Passion before us. But what would the word ‘cross’ have meant to the Apostles at the time in question?”

Ever since this question was passed on to me, I have been wondering what I should do. A brief hit-and-run reply might be easiest but would fail to deal with the real issues involved. An exhaustive answer would be complex and tedious. It might not hold the attention of the devoted readers of this magazine whom I picture to myself as comfortably supine in their armchairs after a day of pastoral exertions. I suppose it’s the problem of the TV documentary. How do you explain to non-chemists the five-step recombinant-DNA method by which a tetracyline-resistant gene of the bacterium Escheridia coli synthesizes insulin? The result is usually a fling at popularised science. This solution, which I am also constrained to adopt, lays one open to inescapable criticism. The professional will feel the facts have been simplified beyond recognition. The layman may not be convinced because he cannot judge the evidence himself.

There is one consideration that gives me courage to proceed. Those who will take the trouble to read what I have to say may be rewarded by more than a taste of modern exegesis; they may deepen their understanding of this important word of Jesus. Keeping this spiritual dimension in mind as my ultimate aim, I shall tackle the question by first discussing the text itself and the earliest forms in which it was handed down. I will then consider in what form it goes back to Jesus himself. Finally, I shall add some reflections on our pastoral use of the phrase ‘carrying one’s cross’.

The text

The statement that a disciple of Jesus should take up his cross is found in two forms. The first, the so-called positive formulation, is common to Matthew, Mark and Luke. The Greek text of all three evangelists is practically identical so that we are justified to infer one common source for both.

Mt 16, 24 and Mk 8,34
“If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Lk 9,23
“If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

The other form in which the statement appears, the negative formulation, occurs in Matthew and Luke. We do not find it in Mark. Although in this case there are more differences in the words employed, here too we have sufficient reason to suspect a common origin for both Gospel passages.

Mt 10 38
“He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Lk 14,27
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

Biblical research leaves little doubt that the “positive formulation” derives from a written document that was known to all three evangelists and which, for simplicity’s sake, I will call “Urmark”. The “negative formulation” was part of another written document, available to Matthew and Luke, which is commonly referred to as “Quelle”. By a careful examination of these and related passages we can, moreover, deduce with certainty that both documents were translations from earlier Aramaic texts, and that their contents were originally handed down as memorised, oral traditions. In the particular case we are studying, there is good reason to assume that both the negative and the positive formulations derive from one Aramaic logion of Jesus. Let us try to unravel some of its compIicated history.

Readiness to die

We may begin by a closer look at the positive formulation, the texts deriving from Urmark. The verse we are considering is not the only fragment of Urmark relevant to our study. It is embedded in a string of seven passages that formed one unit of instruction. If we take Mk 8,31-38 as our point of departure. we may list them as follows:

Mk 8,31-32a Jesus announces his Passion.
32b-33 Peter objects and is rebuked.
34 Disciples should carry their cross.
35 Losing life means saving life.
36 Life means more than the whole world.
37 Nothing is more valuable than life.
38 Disciples should not be ashamed of Jesus

These short references may suffice to place the verse in its context. However, it is worthwhile reading the full text and also the parallels in Mt 16,21-27 and Lk 9,22-26. It will be seen that both the wording and the sequence of the passages are so similar that it is not difficult to reconstruct the reading of Urmark. To cut out unnecessary complications, we may even say that for the section that is here involved, Urmark was roughly identical with what we find in Mark today. Mark did introduce some small modifications (e.g., “for the sake of the Gospel” instead of “for my sake” in Mk 8,35), but these need not detain us for the moment. Research shows that what we have in Mk 8, 31-38 is, for all practical purposes, a fragment of Urmark.

Let us recall the verse we are interested in:

“If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 8,34).

It is not difficult to see the meaning of these words within the context of Urmark’s instruction. Jesus has announced his Passion. When Peter, speaking for us, expresses dismay and reluctance, Jesus teaches that we too should be prepared to share in his sufferings. We should be ready to lay down our life for Jesus’ sake. By such a radical commitment we shall not be the losers because we shall actually regain life in a higher and fuller sense. “Denying oneself and taking up one’s cross” have to be taken literally to fit this context. As Jesus was prepared to die, so we too should, when the need arises, take up our cross and carry it after Jesus to the place of execution. Belonging to Christ requires the radical decision to give up what is humanly speaking man’s highest good, the right to live.

The self-denial spoken of (in verse 34) as parallel to taking up one’s cross does, therefore, not so much express self-discipline or mortification. It stands for an event, an option, a turning away from worry about oneself, a determined surrender to Christ, never mind the consequences! The ‘image’ of taking up one’s cross illustrates precisely such an act of tne will. The verdict of crucifixion implied more than physical pain and death. The condemned person was branded as a criminal, expelled from society, handed over to the contempt and derision of the crowd. The moment when the cross beam was put on one’s shoulder marked the beginn,ing of a . terrible journey, a gauntlet run through jeering and hostile masses, a bitter experience of being literally driven to death. Self-denial requires making this journey willingly for the sake of Jesus. In this way the disciple owns up to Jesus, shows he is not ashamed of him (Mk 8,38).

The instruction in Urmark was put together from originally distinct passages to prepare people for martyrdom. We need not look far for the reason. The early Christian community at Jerusalem was subjected to severe persecutions. “Saul worked for the total destruction of the Church; he went from house to house arresting both men and women and sending them to prison” (Acts 8,3). Paul was to say later: “I myself threw many of the saints into prison, acting on authority from the chief priests, and when they were sentenced to death I cast my vote against them. I often went round the synagogues inflicting penalties, trying in this way to force them to renounce their faith” (Acts 26,10-11). This was the ‘Sitzim-Leben’, the setting, in which the instruction arose. That the instruction was composed in this particular way after Jesus’ death can be inferred from the fact that the disciples are called upon to remain loyal, not only to Jesus himself but also to his words (Mk 8,38; Lk 9,26). It is only after the Resurrection that Jesus’ teaching, his ‘Gospel’ (compare Mk 8,35) becomes the target of persecution. The chief priests want to stop the apostles ‘preaching in this name. .., filling Jerusalem with their teaching’ (Acts 5,28). In the face of such opposition the disciples are reminded that Jesus tolerates no half-hearted commitment. The disciple should be ready to take up his cross and run the gauntlet with his master.

Cost of discipleship

In Matthew’s apostolic sermon the passage on cross-bearing is the climax of a threefold demand.

Mt 10, 37a Whoever loves his father or mother more
than me is not worthy of me.
37b Whoever loves his son or daughter more
than me is not worthy of me.
38 Whoever does not take up his cross and
follow me is not worthy of me.

Luke has three requirements that are obviously related. The third one became separated in the Gospel because Luke inserted two small parables (of the man building a tower and the king marching against his enemy) between verses 27 and 33.

Lk 14, 26 Whoever does not love me more than he loves his father and his mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and his sisters, and himself as well. cannot be my disciple.

27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and
come after me cannot be my disciple . . .
33 Whoever does not give up everything that
he possesses cannot be my disciple.

At first we might be tempted to think that the variance between Matthew and Luke in these passages is too great to allow for a common source. But closer inspection reveals their common origin. The expression “is not worthy of me”, since it refers to not being worthy of a master, means exactly the same as “cannot be my disciple”. In fact, the difference can be explained perfectly as two Greek renderings of an identical Aramaic phrase. Also, it can hardly be a coincidence that both Matthew and Luke bring three sayings in succession. The variation lies mainly in the different way in which the contents have been distributed over the three sayings: Luke’s first statement covers Matthew’s first and second. This too can be explained by oral tradition because it is characteristic of memorised forms of learning that the framework (the repetition of the concluding phrase) is easily remembered and thus fixed, whereas the contents can be readily altered. Everything seems to point to the conclusion that the texts of Matthew and Luke both derive ultimately from the same memorised, Aramaic tradition. When this tradition reached Matthew and Luke as part of Quelle it may already have assumed some of the differences that can now be seen. Other variations may be due to the editorial work of the evangelists themselves.

What was the tenor of this original, triple statement? From the context in which Matthew places it (Mt 10,34-36: “Your worst enemies will be your relatives”; also Quelle) and from an internal analysis it would seem that the context is conflict with members of one’s family. tf we believe in Christ we should be prepared for opposition from those nearest and dearest to us. The commitment to Christ requires that, if need be, we go against the wishes of our parents, our brothers and sisters, or our children. ‘Taking up one’s cross’ end ‘giving up ail that one possesses’ are illustrations of the same principle. The situation which such an instruction presupposes can be found in any period of conversion and Church expansion such as took place in the early Church. Those who were inclined to embrace the Gospel often faced disturbing conflicts with family members. The preachers in reply would put together those sayings of Jesus that could steel the new converts’ determination in the face of such opposition. Quelle contained another triple warning to would-be disciples that is equally tough on attachment to one’s family (Mt 8,19-22; Lk 9,57-62).

One or two Logions?

As we have seen so far, we find the text on cross-bearing in two different sets of instruction. The positive formulation was part of a text, recorded in Urmark, bY which the disciples were prepared for martyrdom. The negative formulation belonged to a triple statement, by Quelle, by which new converts were hardened to overcome obstruction from within their families. We may now retrace history one step further. Did the two formulations arise because Jesus himself made the demand in these two forms? Or do they derive from one logion of the Lord? Evidence points to the second possibility as the more likely one. We should remember that the instructions of the oral catechesis, as handed down by Urmark, Quelle and other sources, consisted of strings of originally distinct teachings, presented together to inculcate certain doctrines and to facilitate memorising. Sayings of Jesus were thus editorially linked. Miracles and parables were grouped in convenient units. Words and deeds of Jesus that seemed to be related vvere collected under the same heading. This makes it quite possible that the preacher who composed the instruction of Urmark inserted Jesus’ logion because it suited his purpose, while another preacher preparing catechumens employed the same logion to strengthen his own theme as found in Quelle.

This possibility becomes a likelihood when we compare both the wording and the meaning of the positive and negative formulations. “To come after me” is the ordinary Aramaic way of saying “to become my disciple”. Saying: “If anyone wants to be my disciple, he should take up his cross” is identical with: “Unless a man takes up his cross he cannot be my disciple”. After all, even though exact formulation played some part from the earliest times, Jesus’teaching was handed down to preserve its meaning. Examples abound to show that rigidity of expression was never pursued as the highest ideal either by the teachers of oral catechesis or by those who recorded it in written form and who translated from the Aramaic, or by the evangelists themselves. Moreover, both the tradition of Urmark and the one preserved by Quelle employ the crossbearing statement in the context of persecution. This too is an indication of a common origin. In short: it is likely that both formulations derive from one original logion of Jesus through which he expressed that would – be disciples should be prepared “to take up their cross” in the face of opposition.

I know from experience that at this point self-styled champions of Gospel integrity will interject: “But Jesus could have made the demand on more occasions. Why always go for a minimum?” The question may reveal that one has not really understood the way in which Jesus taught. Of course, Jesus repeated his teaching more than once. When he visited, let us say, Sephphoris, he might gather a crowd and narrate some parables of the kingdom: the sower, the leaven in the dough, the mustard seed. He might elaborate some of the details or add explanations. But each parable stayed as a fundamental ‘logion’, one of the units of Jesus’ teaching which the disciples too would proclaim when they in turn were sent out to preach on their own. One and the same ‘logion’ could have more applications. The parable of the lost sheep, for instance, is narrated to give courage to sinners in one version (Lk 15,4-7) and to remind elders of their responsibility in another (Mt 18,10-14). The new dimensions might have been alluded to by Jesus himself; they might also result from the further reflection and maturer experience of the disciples. But however far the Holy Spirit might lead such elaboration, it would all be seen as deriving from the one ‘logion’ of the Lord. In this sense there must have been one logion of Jesus on cross-bearing.

What did Jesus say?

To begin with, there are a number of scholars who maintain that the original logion referred only to self-denial: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself.” The image of cross-bearing, they maintain, was added later after the experience of Jesus’ Passion. There is no real argument to support this view. On the contrary, there is much evidence to show that the reference to the cross must, somehow or other, go back to Jesus himself. If we take this reference to the cross out, we have robbed the statement of its heart, of its sting. In fact, in the negative formulation self-denial is not mentioned at all. The carrying of the cross itself is recalled as the essence of the logion. The early Church could pride itself on a good amount of creative imagination-obviously under the guidance of the Holy Spirit-, but they would not put into our Lord’s mouth concrete and specific images he had not used. They did not invent new parables in his name. They might interpret and elaborate; they remained faithful to the imagery of their teacher.

There are other authors who strongly defend that Jesus’ logion contained the explicit demand of “lifting up one’s crossbeam and walking with Jesus to one’s crucifixion” (Kahmann, Moule, Schniewind, Schuermann). They point out that according to a very strong and well attested tradition Jesus had foretold his death before his Passion and that crucifixion was the common way of putting people to death in territories governed by the Romans, such as Judea was at the time of Jesus. The idea that it might all end in crucifixion was, they say, quite natural in such a situation. Even the Jewish King, Alexander Jannaeus (t0376 BC) had 800 of his opponents crucified on one occasion, and Jesus’ contemporaries were quite used to demanding the crucifixion of criminals they handed over to the Roman authorities. The Sitz-im-Leben of Jesus’ logion would then come close to what we have seen about the instruction of Urmark. But there is a difference; whereas Urmark arose in seed. He might elaborate some of the details or add explanations. But each parable stayed as a fundamental ‘logion’, one of the units of Jesus’ teaching which the disciples too would proclaim when they in turn were sent out to preach on their own. One and the same ‘logion’ could have more applications. The parable of the lost sheep, for instance, is narrated to give courage to sinners in one version (Lk 15,4-7) and to remind elders of their responsibility in another (Mt 18,10-14). The new dimensions might have been alluded to by Jesus himself; they might also result from the further reflection and maturer experience of the disciples. But however far the Holy Spirit might lead such elaboration, it would all be seen as deriving from the one ‘logion’ of the Lord. In this sense there must have been one logion of Jesus on cross-bearing.

There are other authors who strongly defend that Jesus’ logion contained the explicit demand of “lifting up one’s crossbeam and walking with Jesus to one’s crucifixion” (Kahmann, Moule, Schniewind, Schuermann). They point out that according to a very strong and well attested tradition Jesus had foretold his death before his Passion and that crucifixion was the common way of putting people to death in territories governed by the Romans, such as Judea was at the time of Jesus. The idea that it might all end in crucifixion was, they say, quite natural in such a situation. Even the Jewish King, Alexander Jannaeus (10876 BC) had 800 of his opponents crucified on one occasion, and Jesus’ contemporaries were quite used to demanding the crucifixion of criminals they handed over to the Roman authorities. The Sitz-im-Leben of Jesus’ logion would then come close to what we have seen about the instruction of Urmark. But there is a difference: whereas the time of persecution of the Jerusalem community, Jesus’ logion was spoken against the background of pharisaic hostility before the Passion.

A third group of scholars feels uneasy about the previous view. Even if one grants that crucifixion was quite common, especially in Judea, one wonders if it was natural for Jesus to refer to this specific kind of death. Decapitation, stoning, strangulation and being burnt alive were equally favoured forms of execution. “Taking up one’s crossbeam” sounds natural in Latin or Greek; there seems to be no parallel in the Semitic languages. Not once do we find the expression in rabbinical or Qumranic writings. I don’t mean only that the ‘image’ is unusual; thephrase sounds awkward in the mouth of a rabbi who teaches in Aramaic. It is like Shakespeare handling a Bantu proverb or Moliere a German sentence construction. The question is: would Jesus say this kind of thing and how would he say it in Aramaic?

Following in the footsteps of the Master while ‘carrying the cross’ seems to be an essential dimension of the logion: how could it be so if the Master’s own ‘way of the cross’ was not Yet clearly known? Jesus may have alluded to crucifixion as the form in which he might die (see Jn 12, 32-33) but, as far as we can judge, he did not emphatically predict this kind of death. Of the nine synoptic passages that contain the prediction of his Passion, only one lMt 20,19) mentions crucifixion explicitly. This means that Urmark, from which all these texts derive, contained only a general statement: “The Son of Man will suffer, will be rejected and will be killed . . . ” (see Mk 8,31 and parallels). Again, the logion requires that every disciple carry his own crossbeam. If this was such an important ‘image’ for the early Christians, how come that the synoptics narrate without embarrassment that Jesus’ cross was carried by Simon of Cyrene (see Mk 15,21 and parallels)? Apparently it was a problem for later Christians so that John had to state emphatically: “He carried his own cross” (Jn 19,17). For all these reasons a logion that would bluntly ask each disciple to take up his own crossbeam and follow the Master would not seem to fit easily into the pre-Resurrection period.

Many scholars think that Jesus must have said something that was so close to ‘taking up one’s cross’ that it could spontaneously be given this new meaning after Jesus’ Passion. Could it have been taking up his ‘yoke’ (Mt 11,29)? The jump in imagery here seems too big: Mt 11,19 speaks of Jesus’ yoke, the logion of one’s own cross. An interesting hypothesis has been put forward by E. Dinkler. He suggests that Jesus may have said: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take on his tau”. This saying would be understandable to his contemporaries because it would immediately recall the scenes described in Ez 8-9. The prophet (called ‘the Son of Man’) is shown the sins of idolatry committed by Jerusalem. God decides to punish the city, but he sends an angel to mark those who have remained loyal to him: they receive a sign, the tau, on the forehead (Ez 9,4-6). The vision concludes with a glimpse of God’s glory.

This reconstruction of Jesus’ logion may seem new and startling. But it is not without its merits. The Tau is the Hebrew letter T which was written in the form of either a capital T or capital X. The transition from this symbol to the cross, the crossbeam, does not involve major acrobatics. The tau was used as an eschatological symbol by Jews in Jesus’ time, as we know from such marks on ossuaries. Jesus’ words seem to reflect some of the ideas of Ezekiel’s vision. When Jesus calls on his disciples not to be ashamed of himself “in this adulterous and sinful generation”, when he says that he will defend his faithful friends when entering into “the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mk 8,38), he may have been invoking Ezekiel’s scene. The disciples could then be understood as accepting the “au-symbol as a sign to mark them off. However, Dinkler’s suggestion only remains a hypothesis. And it has its weaknesses too. In Ez 9,4-6 the stress is on God marking his friends, not on the friends marking themselves. And if Jesus used Ezekiel’s vision as source material for his teaching, why is it never quoted by later New Testament authors?

Jesus’ Logion

Be loyal to me in spite of opposition from your family

Jesus’ Logion

Be loyal to me in spite of opposition.

Urmark

Be loyal to me unto death during persecution.

Mt. 16,24 Mk. 8,34 Lk 9,23

Quelle

Be loyal to me in spite of opposition from your family.

Mt. 10,38 Lk 9,23

Be loyal to me in your everyday relationships.

Mt.10,38 Lk 14,27

What Jesus meant

Thus we complete the circle. It is not possible to reconstruct with certainty the exact wording of Jesus’ logion. Perhaps Jesus said something very challenging which, after Calvary, was immediately understood by the disciples as being identical with ‘taking up one’s cross’. If so, we don’t know what this something was. The best case, perhaps, can still be made out for thinking that Jesus did actually refer to crucifixion, that he coined the words of the logion in the form we find in Urmark. After all, is he not known for many other unexpected, incredible statements: “Leave the dead to bury their dead” (Lk 9,59); “Nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this” (about a Roman [!] centurion; Mt 8,10); and: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” (Mt 21,21)?

Although the Gospels transmit Jesus’ teaching faithfully, they do not always preserve the very words of Jesus (the so-called ‘ipsissima verba ‘). What they guarantee is to give us the mind of Jesus, what he meant. The need to translate from one language into another, to adapt from one cultural situation to the next, called for a flexible approach. With our Western and twentieth-century mentality we exaggerate the importance of the historical moment that stood at the beginning: as if a snapshot of Jesus would be more valuable than his living presence in the Eucharist, as if a sound-recording of Jesus’ Aramaic sermons would bring us closer to his mind. Such historical material, however interesting in itself, would almost certainly fail to convey the heart of the Gospel-which is a living word. It is the interpretations given by Urmark, Quelle and the evangelists that reveal to us the true sense and fullest depths of Jesus’ logion.

Incurring the risk of labouring my point, I should like to work this out by means of a comparison. Coins are pieces of metal cast to bear an image; banknotes are sheets of paper with their value printed on them. The official imprint is essential; without it they would be worthless. Now, we might ask historical questions such as: When and where was the coin minted? Who designed the imprint for the banknote? Which director of the national bank signed the original issue? The answers to such questions, however interesting and relevant for the financial experts, do not determine the current validity of the money. For commercial use it is adequate to recognise a pound note for a pound note and to know that the Government guarantees its value. The past moments of designing the face of the banknote, of fixing its serial number, of endorsing it with the signature of the chief cashier, and of stamping the watermark have gone into a banknote, it is true: but for me the value of the note in my hands is that I can make payment with it. The same applies to the gospels. TheY came about through a long historical process. What matters is their value as Jesus’ guaranteed message.

The disciple should be prepared to take up his cross and follow Jesus. We have seen that both in Urmark and in Quelle this was understood to imply a decisive and public commitment to Jesus in face of opposition and persecution. We should be ready to be expelled from society and even put to death for our allegiance to him. Tension with our friends and relations should not make us waver. We should profess our stand regardless of the consequences and not be ashamed of belonging to Christ. This is the basic requirement implied in the self-denial and cross-bearing of the disciple. This is what Jesus meant.

Interpretation and watering down Scripture

Concepts that are originally strong and unique have a tendency to be given ever wider interpretations. In this way they are gutted and eroded; eventually they become meaningless. The term ‘apostle’ was reserved to a very select group in New-Testament times; Paul’s exclamation: “Am I not an Apostle?!” (1 Cor 9,1) shows he was accorded an exceptional status, much like a Cardinal’s today. But for us everyone is an ‘apostle’ and people can seriously speak of the ‘apostolate’ of bookkeeping or collecting stamps. A sacrifice once denoted an act of religious worship expressing total surrender to God. Now someone may consider it ‘a sacrifice’ to forgo Match of the Day. The same has happened to the action of taking up one’s cross.

When we say, “Everybody has to carry his cross”, we think of the whole gamut of human suffering: from losing a parent to having a toothache, or having to put up with a talkative aunt! Some spiritual authors write as if God set up a special despatching office for ‘crosses’: first He may send you some small ones, to test your strength; if you manage them well, He may send you bigger ones. Good customers may even learn to strike a spiritual bargain. “God, I offer this cross for so-and-so.” The readiness to suffer and to take gallantly the hardships that come our way is, of course, highly commendable; at least, if it does not spring from a disguised spiritual masochism. But does it correspond to the biblical notion of cross-bearing?

The origin of our speaking of ‘crosses’ in this way may lie with Lk 9,23. There we read that the disciple should deny himself and take up his cross daily. Why should the evangelist add the word ‘daily’ if not to bring Jesus’ principle down to the everyday life of the Christian? May we then not legitimately speak of our ‘daily crosses’? Did Luke not intend to include the toothache and the talkative aunt? In spite of appearances, the answer is No.

The addition of the word ‘daily’ is characteristic of Luke. He does want to stress the ‘here and now’ of the work of redemption: “Today salvation has come to this house” (Lk 19,9). Luke’s Gospel introduces ‘today’ nine times against Matthew’s twice and Mark’s once. The ever recurring need is emphasised in his version of the Our Father by the phrase: “Give us each day our daily bread” (Lk 11,3). Where Matthew says we have to forgive a brother seventy times seven times (Mt 18,22), Luke puts “seven times a day” (Lk 17,4). In the same way, in Lk 9,23 he does indeed want to bring out that self-denial and taking up one’s cross are requirements that need to be faced every day. But the context in which the verse is placed shows that Luke retains the original meaning of crossbearing as loyalty to Christ in the face of opposition.

The whole of Lk 9,22-26 is dominated by two key concepts: loss of life and social rejection. Christ begins by stating that He himself will be rejected and put to death (vs. 22). The disciple should be prepared to take up a similar cross (vs. 23), should lose his life for Christ’s sake (vs. 24-25), should not be ashamed of Christ or his words before the people (vs.26). The Urmarkian theme of publicly owning up to Christ in spite of persecution has been fully retained. Luke’s addition of ‘daily’ does no more than remind us that rejection and the need to carry the cross of shame will never leave us. Commitment to Christ will entail a loss of face for his sake among neighbours, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances. Luke’s interpretation no doubt reflects the precarious position of the hellenistic Christian communities for which he was writing.

My remarks about the way in which we speak about our ‘crosses’ may have been somewhat facetious. After all, if this is how people want to express a profound conviction that all hardships offer the opportunity to “complete what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings” (Col 1,24), they are free to do so. But it is scripturally more correct to restrict the image of carrying the cross to situations where we are called upon to suffer for confessing Christ publicly. This is closer to what Jesus himself had in mind. And ‘not to be ashamed of Him before men’ is as incisive and pertinent a challenge today as it has ever been.