Some visual images are so striking and symbolic that they become deeply etched in our memory; like seeing a man walking down the street with a cross upon his shoulder, pulling it along behind him.  That is what I saw a few weeks ago as I was making my morning drive to the church office.  The man was headed west on 71st St. in Broken Arrow.  I was headed east, so I only got a brief glimpse of his face before I passed him and then watched his frame grow smaller in the rear-view mirror. 

I don’t know why I didn’t turn around, pull into a parking lot, and try to introduce myself to the man.  I’m sure that I felt pressed to get to the office by a particular time to get a jump on the day’s activities.  Like priests and Levites, I’m a busy man, you know.  I can’t be bothered by interruptions, no matter how much of a blessing it might end up being for me or someone else!   

I could have at least offered to buy the cross-bearer a cup of coffee or asked him if he had eaten breakfast.  Maybe then I would know his name, where he is from, where he was headed, and what his story is.  I passed on all of that so that I could stay on schedule.  My loss!  My foolish, clock-driven, OCD-induced loss!

I don’t know what this man’s intended statement and message was or if he even had one.  Maybe he was just doing this for the sake of doing it or as some sort of “performance art” in which the meaning is left to the eye and assessment of the beholder.  Regardless of his intent, he succeeded in communicating two powerful messages to me.

He reminded me of Jesus’ call to discipleship.  “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me,” (Matt. 16:24).   The road traveled by those seeking to follow in the steps of Jesus is not one of ease and comfort, but one of self-denial, sacrifice, and endurance.  The Lord was ready to challenge and rebuke anyone, including Peter, who suggested that it would be any other way (Matt. 16:21-23).

Leon Morris offers the following comments on Jesus’ sobering call to follow Him.  “There is nothing self-indulgent about being a Christian.  The disciples had probably seen a man take up his cross, and they knew what it meant.  When a man from one of their villages took up a cross and went off with a little band of Roman soldiers, he was on a one-way journey.  He would not be back.  Taking up the cross meant the utmost in self-denial.”

Also, the man pulling the cross through Broken Arrow reminded me of the burdens that people bear in their lives: long-term illnesses, financial hardship, fractured relationships, mental illness, addictions, guilt, bitterness, shattered dreams, etc.   What if the loads that are being shouldered by those around us were as visible as this man’s wooden cross?  Would we be a little more understanding and empathetic?  Would we speak more kindly?  Would we cut people more slack, give them the benefit of the doubt, and be a little less quick to judge?

It’s not a matter of if we and others around us are bearing burdens, just a matter of what kind and how many.  Everybody’s got one; most of us have more. 

Attached to the base of this man’s cross were two small wheels.  They bore a significant share of the load and contributed greatly to his ability to move forward.  Only very rarely, if ever, will we be able to completely remove someone else’s burden, but we can certainly lighten the load and assist in the ease of their journey.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ,” (Galatians 6:2).