Calling the people and his disciples to him, Jesus said,“If anyone wishes to walk in my steps, they must renounce self, take up their cross, and follow me.
see we are yet together
recommitted to a common journey
increasing a beachhead here
eroding a headland there
mutual support and correction
to bolster larger intention
and hone prickly egos
until turning by turning
suffering comes ’round right
by double-crossed joy
betrayals step back
from privileged compulsion
to betray in turn
until crosses are crossed off
Joanna Dewey’s chapter in Levine35 describes a key difference in understanding this verse in the 1st Century and the 21st.
In modern Western post-Enlightenment societies the basic unit of society is understood to be the individual self. In such a culture, to renounce oneself comes to mean to renounce one’s very individuality. In antiquity, however, and indeed in much of the world still today, the basic unit of society is not the individual person but the multi-generational kinship group.
This leads Dewey to see a chiastic pattern critical to understanding this verse and not superimposing today’s world on a prior world.
A If any want to follow after me,
B let them renounce themselves [that is, deny kin]
B’ and take up their cross [that is, risk persecution]
A’ and follow me.
This is an important corrective to the kind of individualism that ends up in literalism and/or fundamentalism, whether Peter’s or our current capitalist variant.
When restarting to make the same point about a known arc of responsibility and consequence, Jesus returns to his wilderness experience of belovedness that includes an emptying of self to move beyond a temptation and encompass it in a larger view from its rear. Bratcher265 gives the alternative reading, “he must give up all claims upon himself”. This moves in the direction of continuing to move into a space beyond our location within a culture or current iteration of our personal identity. This larger mystic claim of unity with a larger future, is critical to dealing with fears of punishment and shame.