We’re in that stretch of Gospels from Luke… where there are some pretty tough messages from Jesus.
Three weeks ago we heard Jesus tell us that he came to set the earth on fire, to divide families.
Two weeks ago we heard that the first will be last and last week that the exalted will be humbled.
In today’s Gospel, we hear that unless we are willing to pick up a cross and follow Jesus, then we can’t… follow Jesus.
It’s as though Jesus wants us to be laid low, to experience hardship, to know suffering firsthand. But he loves us. Why would he wish such hardship upon us?
I think the answer has something to do with the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect is named after the psychologists who did work to show that people have a tendency to overestimate their ability early on when they tackle something new. They think they are better than they actually are at something when they first get started. The reason is that they don’t know what they don’t know. They have not yet experienced criticism, pushback, challenge… and so they are unable to adequately judge their own work. It is only though this type of challenge that they learn what actually is good and what actually isn’t.
I remember when I first got into digital photography. There is a technique called HDR, or high dynamic range, photography. You blend multiple exposures of the same scene together in order to get more dynamic range in a shot. I won’t bore you with the technical details but the idea is that you get a final product that is punchier, more saturated, and more detailed than you can otherwise. I dove headfirst into HDR photography and, let me tell you, I was awesome at it right away. So awesome that I decided to have an exhibition of my work at a coffee shop in Dedham. I suspect you know where this story is going…
The exhibit was a bust. A total bust. My photos looked like the worst kinds of postcards you’ve seen. Very colorful, very dramatic, very cartoonish and very bad. I look back at those images now and say to myself: what was I thinking? I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Have you ever done anything like that?
I believe that Jesus was delivering these tough messages because he understood the Dunning-Kruger effect pretty well. He knew that his message of hope, his teachings about forgiveness and second chances, and the notion of an eternal purpose would resonate. That people would rush in and say, yes… count me in!
But he understood that his disciples didn’t know what they didn’t know. That their newfound beliefs needed to be pressure tested and challenged. Because it is only through challenge that faith will grow and strengthen.
It has been said that the greatest evidence of the Resurrection are the actions of those first believers who followed. They were pressure tested, they endured hardship and they suffered. But they prevailed.
When we experience hardship in life… and some of us experience a lot of it… are laid low, humbled and suffer, Jesus invites us… to rise. To follow him. To not set aside the cross but to pick it up and to lay it across our own shoulders and to follow him with that cross upon us. He asks us to be motivated by an eternal purpose.
He asks us to rise.
For when we do… like those early believers… we ourselves become transformed into evidence of the Resurrection. Because if we can rise up from our own crosses and still follow, then we show the world what this faith is actually about.
Jesus invites us to participate in his Resurrection. This happens when we rise.