Sunday, November 27, 2005

Take up Your Cross and Follow Me

In Mk 8:34 and 10:21 as well as in several places in the other canonical gospels, Jesus is quoted as saying the words in the title.

KJV has it as follows:
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And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
Unquote

J.W. Kaiser (JWK) translates this as follows (from the Dutch in "Beleving van het evangelie," 1950):
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And, having called the crowd to himself with his disciples, he said to them:
'If anyone wants to follow me, he should deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.'
Unquote

In his parallel esoteric interpretation of the text JWK writes as follows:
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The Master calls the many who do not as yet follow him and his disciples to himself with the all too oft forgotten word: that whoever really wants to follow him, should not go the way of self-glorification, but should face the resistance of the values of the world to the full in his soul as it is directed heavenward, and bear it like a cross.
Unquote

Today we can more than ever, with our Course perspective, understand what those words meant to convey: "Take responsibility for your choice for the ego (crucifixion), and follow me." And thus this simple line states a material point of Jesus' teaching of the Atonement, which in the Course is given expression in Chapter 27 as follows:

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The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself. 2 No matter what the form of the attack, this still is true. 3 Whoever takes the role of enemy and of attacker, still is this the truth. 4 Whatever seems to be the cause of any pain and suffering you feel, this is still true. 5 For you would not react at all to figures in a dream you knew that you were dreaming. 6 Let them be as hateful and as vicious as they may, they could have no effect on you unless you failed to recognize it is your dream.
Unquote (ACIM:T-27.VIII.10)

In other words the point is salvation is only possible if we take responsibility for our choice for the ego, for unless we do, we could not change our mind about it either. Putting these various comments together, it is very clear how and why the "resistance" that we experience is nothing but the thought system of the ego (the world) within us which is our "cross," and that our path in following Jesus is to clear away these "obstacles to love's presence." (Course introduction) Thus the path is in effect the letting go of the ego's values, which the forgiveness process makes possible in helping us see every situation as a classroom in forgiveness, giving us the opportunity to let go of these obstacles within ourselves, which we see in the world outside only because of our split mind, which cannot see within.

In the section "The Message of the Crucifixion," in Chapter 6, the Course discusses the symbolism of the crucifixion as Jesus intended it:

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You have probably reacted for years as if you were being crucified. 2 This is a marked tendency of the separated, who always refuse to consider what they have done to themselves. 3 Projection means anger, anger fosters assault, and assault promotes fear. 4 The real meaning of the crucifixion lies in the intensity of the assault of some of the Sons of God upon another. 5 This, of course, is impossible, and must be fully understood impossible. 6 Otherwise, I cannot serve as a model for learning.
Assault can ultimately be made only on the body. 2 There is little doubt that one body can assault another, and can even destroy it. 3 Yet if destruction itself is impossible, anything that is destructible cannot be real. 4 Its destruction, therefore, does not justify anger. 5 To the extent to which you believe that it does, you are accepting false premises and teaching them to others. 6 The message the crucifixion was intended to teach was that it is not necessary to perceive any form of assault in persecution, because you cannot persecuted. 7 If you respond with anger, you must be equating yourself with the destructible, and are therefore regarding yourself insanely.
I have made it perfectly clear that I am like you and you are like me, but our fundamental equality can be demonstrated only through joint decision. 2 You are free to perceive yourself as persecuted if you choose. 3 When you do choose to react that way, however, you might remember that I was persecuted as the world judges, and did not share this evaluation for myself. 4 And because I did not share it, I did not strengthen it. 5 I therefore offered a different interpretation of attack, and one which I want to share with you. 6 If you will believe it, you will help me teach it.
Unquote (ACIM:T-6.I.3-5)

In other words Jesus is not his body and he is teaching us who he really is, spirit, so we may learn through him who we really are, like him, spirit. So he is asking us to learn with him and become like him, so we don't feel persecuted if we are attacked, on the basis of the fact that the body is not who we are. It becomes even more pointed a few paragraphs down, when he says:

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The message of the crucifixion is perfectly clear:
2 Teach only love, for that is what you are.
Unquote (ACIM:T-6.I.13)

In the early Christian era the words about taking up the cross were misconstrued almost immediately in the context of the profound belief in sacrifice and vicarious salvation which fairly promptly became prominent interpretations, not least thanks to Paul. Thus the misinterpretation of "following Jesus," and taking up our cross, became the "imitatio Christi." i.e. to repeat in form what he experienced in the world, namely the crucifixion, and so Christianity confessed itself in its practices to what it truly is, a religion of form over content, which serves the purpose of validating the reality of the world to its followers - the complete opposite of what Jesus taught. In the next paragraph in "The Message of the Crucifixion," he then proceeds to correct this error of Christianity by emphasizing that we are supposed to join him in the content of his experience, rather than repeat the extreme form that his particular experience took:

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As I have said before, "As you teach so shall you learn." 2 If you react as if you are persecuted, you are teaching persecution. 3 This is not a lesson a Son of God should want to teach if he is to realize his own salvation. 4 Rather, teach your own perfect immunity, which is the truth in you, and realize that it cannot assailed. 5 Do not try to protect it yourself, or you are believing that it is assailable. 6 You are not asked to be crucified, which was part of my own teaching contribution. 7 You are merely asked to follow my example in the face of much less extreme temptations to misperceive, and not to accept them as false justifications for anger. 8 There can be no justification for the unjustifiable. 9 Do not believe there is, and do not teach that there is. 10 Remember always that what you believe you will teach. 11 Believe with me, and we will become equal as teachers.
Unquote (ACIM:T-6.I.6)

Furthermore besides correcting our interpretation of the Crucifixion, mostly in this section of Chapter 6, but which is touched on in many more places in the Course, the Course also makes it clear why the ego HAD to misinterpret the Crucifixion the way it did in a section of Chapter 19, under The Obstacles to Peace. There it is also made clear why we have to forgive Jesus for not being the bitter idol that Christianity made of him.

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I am made welcome in the state of grace, which means you have at last forgiven me. 2 For I became the symbol of your sin, and so I had to die instead of you. 3 To the ego sin means death, and so atonement is achieved through murder. 4 Salvation is looked upon as a way by which the Son of God was killed instead of you. 5 Yet would I offer you my body, you whom I love, its littleness? 6 Or would I teach that bodies cannot keep us apart? 7 Mine was of no greater value than yours; no better means for communication of salvation, but not its Source. 8 No one can die for anyone, and death does not atone for sin. 9 But you can live to show it is not real. 10 The body does appear to be the symbol of sin while you believe that it can get you what you want. 11 While you believe that it can give you pleasure, you will also believe that it can bring you pain. 12 To think you could be satisfied and happy with so little is to hurt yourself, and to limit the happiness that you would have calls upon pain to fill your meager store and make your life complete. 13 This is completion as the ego sees it. 14 For guilt creeps in where happiness has been removed, and substitutes for it. 15 Communion is another kind of completion, which goes beyond guilt, because it goes beyond the body.
Unquote (ACIM:T-19.IV.A.17)

In other words: for the separate self to have its cake and eat it too, Jesus must die for our sins, and the "salvation" the ego sees in this is that it is now real, having been granted a right to exist because of Jesus' sacrifice. Thus the Christian interpretation of the crucifixion makes the world real, therefore makes sin real (we really did separate from God) makes the body real, equates Jesus with the body, and curiously keeps guilt in circulation, for now we can feel good and guilty over Jesus' dying for our shenanigans: after all, death is now real too.

Therefore we have to forgive Jesus at some point for NOT being the magical savior who lets us get away with it, but rather being the very unwelcome (to our ego) teacher of love, who asks that we first take responsibility for OUR choice for the separation, since if we do not first own that choice, we could not change our mind and decide to follow Jesus instead of the ego. The more we do so we can then join with him in demonstrating that he lives in us, or as the Course sums it up, giving very practical and graphical expression to the theme of undoing the crucifixion:

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You will not find peace until you have removed the nails from the hands of God's Son, and taken the last thorn from his forehead. 2 The Love of God surrounds His Son whom the god of crucifixion condemns. 3 Teach not that I died in vain. 4 Teach rather that I did not die by demonstrating that I live in you. 5 For the undoing of the crucifixion of God's Son is the work of the redemption, in which everyone has a part of equal value. 6 God does not judge His guiltless Son. 7 Having given Himself to him, how could it be otherwise?
Unquote (ACIM:T-11.VI.7)

In Chapter 4, The Illusions of the Ego, there is the following statement, which also puts all this in perspective:

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The journey to the cross should be the last "useless journey." 2 Do not dwell upon it, but dismiss it as accomplished. 3 If you can accept it as your own last useless journey, you are also free to join my resurrection. 4 Until you do so your life is indeed wasted. 5 It merely re-enacts the separation, the loss of power, the futile attempts of the ego at reparation, and finally the crucifixion of the body, or death. 6 Such repetitions are endless until they are voluntarily given up. 7 Do not make the pathetic error of "clinging to the old rugged cross." 8 The only message of the crucifixion is that you can overcome the cross. 9 Until then you are free to crucify yourself as often as you choose. 10 This is not the gospel I intended to offer you. 11 We have another journey to undertake, and if you will read these lessons carefully they will help prepare you to undertake it.
Unquote (ACIM:T-4.in.3)

In other words, again, it is purely our choice to be crucified by clinging to the ego's values, or to chose life and join with Jesus in the resurrection. The contrast between these two choices is made very graphical on another level in Chapter 27, in a section called "The Picture of the Crucifixion," by depicting the choice for the ego's favorite role as victim as follows:

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5 The sick are merciless to everyone, and in contagion do they seek to kill. 6 Death seems an easy price, if they can say, "Behold me, brother, at your hand I die." 7 For sickness is the witness to his guilt, and death would prove his errors must be sins. 8 Sickness is but a "little" death; a form of vengeance not yet total.
Unquote (ACIM:T-27.I.4)

... and contrasting it with the choice for life, which Jesus offers us, as follows:

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Into this empty space, from which the goal of sin has been removed, is Heaven free to be remembered. 2 Here its peace can come, and perfect healing take the place of death. 3 The body can become a sign of life, a promise of redemption, and a breath of immortality to those grown sick of breathing in the fetid scent of death. 4 Let it have healing as its purpose. 5 Then will it send forth the message it received, and by its health and loveliness proclaim the truth and value that it represents. 6 Let it receive the power to represent an endless life, forever unattacked. 7 And to your brother let its message be, "Behold me, brother, at your hand I live."
Unquote (ACIM:T-27.I.10)

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.
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