I remember that when I learned as a child about Jesus’s Passion, I was surprised to hear that when Jesus was asked to take up His Cross and walk to Calvary—to march to His death as an innocent man—He actually did it. I didn’t understand why He wouldn’t just fall to the ground and go limp (a strategy well known to most children), or resist in any way possible the unjust fate before Him. I viewed the whole event through a narrow lens in which Christ was the helpless victim being subjected to an unthinkable tragedy, a terrible mistake in human history, and it seemed odd to me that He wouldn’t put up a fight against such grave injustice, that He would seem to cooperate with his tormentors.
Of course, my childhood misconceptions were incorrect on multiple levels. Christ’s unshakeable calm and mournful demeanor were a more powerful witness to His innocence and enduring love for us than anger would have been. But at its core, my question was the same as the one asked by Jesus’s onlookers: “If you are the son of God, come down from the cross!” Essentially, I was asking why and how God could allow this to happen to Himself—because He did, He allowed it. It was not a mistake or an oversight or a tragic end to His plan; it was the fulfillment of it. He chose to accept death. I only really began to understand this more as I encountered experiences of suffering in my own life.
When I am handed a cross to bear, my natural response is to go limp, to fall to the ground in despair and protest. It’s not fair! How can I go on like this? But Jesus models how we are to respond: we are to take up our crosses and follow Him. Even when it’s not fair and we’d rather sulk about it. Even when moving forward means walking straight toward more suffering. He chose to take up His Cross, to accept the injustices and wrongs against Him for our sake. He could have given us what we truly deserve, but instead He opens His arms in mercy. He accepted the consequences of our actions and kept moving forward.
So how does He feel, then, to see me whine about my own burdens, or act in anger toward my neighbor when I am bothered or inconvenienced? What I am experiencing very well may seem unfair, but to dwell on how I’ve been wronged is to turn my back on the God who chose mercy over justice. If I deign to ask for His mercy, I must show the same mercy to others. I must choose not to keep score or hold grudges but to gracefully accept the crosses that enter my life and carry them forward instead of allowing them to weigh me down, making me stuck in one place, limp on the floor.
If I feel I can’t do it alone and need to ask for help in carrying my cross, I’ll be following Jesus’s example as well—for He had the assistance of Simon of Cyrene as He ascended Calvary. He has designed us to depend on one another. If I am asked to be a Simon for someone else, to help with a cross that is not my own, I can reach out an arm and lift my neighbor up from the floor. It is both my responsibility and my privilege to be there for others when they suffer, and I must avoid the temptation to turn away from other people’s problems. Suffering is not an evil to be avoided; it is a force that can shape and refine souls and bring them closer to Our Lord, Who suffered so greatly. We all face walks to Calvary in our own lives, and if we can rise above our circumstances and stay on the path before us, we will become more like the One whose example we follow.
1. Ecce Homo, Andrea Solari / PD-1923
2. Jesus Carrying the Cross, El Greco / PD-1923
3. Christ Carrying the Cross, Titian / PD-1923