Friends, in our Gospel for today, Jesus outlines the cost of becoming his disciple: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” We have a very antiseptic view of the cross, for we have seen it for so long as a religious symbol.
But for the first nine centuries or so of the Christian dispensation, artists didn’t depict the cross, for it was just too brutal. Say what you want about the violence in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ—it probably came as close as any work of art to showing the reality of a Roman crucifixion.
But here’s the point: We are meant to see on that cross not simply a violent display but rather our own ugliness. What brought Jesus to the cross? Stupidity, anger, mistrust, institutional injustice, betrayal of friends, denial, unspeakable cruelty, scapegoating, and fear. In other words, all of our dysfunction is revealed on that cross. In the light of the cross, no one can say the popular philosophy of our times, “I’m okay and you’re okay.” This is why we speak of the cross as God’s judgment on the world.