“He Called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ ” Mark 8: 34
The Cross – upon it dissidents are executed. Those who disturbed the Pax Romana – especially those in Judea. Especially Jews. This was the torture device reserved for those awkward citizens who stood up to the Roman Rulers. Extreme humiliation to be hung from a wooden cross. Citizens were often hung, naked, at the place of their crime as a deterrent to others. In the world of the Roman Empire, these words of Jesus would not have lost their true meaning:
Make no mistake, if you follow me and take this path, you will come into direct opposition to the state, you may die, yet you will have glory in heaven. Walking towards a confrontation between the state and Jesus, between cosmic and temporal forces at work, between God and Satan.
It is easy to make this passage into some kind of spiritual rite of passage, taking up of the cross as some kind of personal asceticism, yet the way of the cross is a path to certain death, a path which is not trod lightly.
I suppose there is a boy like Marcus in every school, not so well socially adjusted, perhaps lives a sheltered life, with some family break up or other issue at home which has not been properly addressed. I guess we can all imagine or even think of someone knew like Marcus from school days, or even people we know now who are made into the scapegoat, the one at whom all the jokes are directed.
In the society of children, those who do not conform are ridiculed and excluded. Those who do not have the right trainers or listen to the right music are subject to the ridicule of others. Children love to have one person to whom the fun can be pointed, generally however, this is to divert the attention from themselves.
We meet Marcus wishing he didn’t have to go to school. He was having an awful time at this new school, he didn’t fit in. His clothes were different, his mother still walked him to school, he stuck out as an oddity and so the others made fun of him. Home wasn’t too great either. His Mother was having a hard time coping with the break up of their family.
Whilst out for the day on a SPAT (Single Parents Alone Toegther) picnic, where he meets Will Freeman, (who tries to meet single parents by making up a two year old son) his mother tries to commit suicide. Marcus, distraught, is not sure who or where to turn to.
He ends up confiding in the one person who is probably the least well adjusted to dealing with teenagers with home and school life problems. Will Freeman. However, in that Marcus saves Will from continuing his meaningless life and gives himself a lifeline when he is in trouble later on.
It is the vulnerability of Marcus which is his saving grace – and his naivety.
To put oneself in a position of vulnerability is hard, it is also counter cultural, against human nature we are born for survival, not for being vulnerable.
Marcus has a dilemma. His mother is desperately unhappy and there is nothing he can do about it – except one thing – Fiona says to Marcus one christmas day that his singing brings happiness into her life – Marcus wants to make the grand gesture for his mother, the only thing he knows he can do that makes her happy. The event he enters is a rock concert of the most modern, trendy and hip with cool music – the song Marcus has chosen, ‘Killing me Softly’ doesn’t fit either. He asks one of his few friends to help him, she says it would be suicide to do such a thing, that they will crucify him.
Although he knows that if he sings before the whole school he will be ridiculed, he does it anyway because he loves his mother and wants her to be well. It is the only thing that he thinks he can do for her.
Marcus takes a huge risk in singing before the school, He wins the admiration of his Mother, despite the jeering crowds. At the last minute Will Freeman, the wilderness dweller with no social attachments, watching from the wings of the stage, steps on with a guitar and helps him out deflecting some of the laughter onto himself.
Will takes up the cross of Marcus beside him on the stage – he follows in his way, winning not only the friendship of Marcus but the admiration and heart of the woman he has been courting for his selfless action for Marcus, there is after all, something more than a ‘blank’ to Will.
Marcus has stood up to those who would ridicule him and won because he was not afraid to present his vulnerability to others – to wear his heart on his sleeve.
Taking up the cross means standing between, being prepared to die for what is right, to die for the cause of the poor, marginalised and those with no voice.
Society today does not crucify with wood and nails, but as Marcus found, in order to to the only thing he could think of for his mother he was in danger of ending any chance he had at a normal life in the school afterwards. In order to follow Christ we must be prepared to lose all that we have.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, of the Confessing Church in Germany wrote:
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”