Many may agree with the assessment up to this point. Yes, Jesus was called by God to lay down his life. However, individuals begin to diverge in opinion when Yoder argues that this life Christ lived is prescriptive for Christians today. Surely there were different expectations on the savior of the world than there are on his followers in modernity. The actions we see in the gospels are descriptions of the Son of God, not prescriptions for the sons of God. But Yoder begs to differ.
If the gospel message is that Christ came to establish a new kingdom - his Kingdom, then it seems clear that he showed us what Kingdom life looked like - what it meant to be a citizen and participant in his Kingdom. Yoder points out several lines of reasoning for why we can be sure Christ's actions are prescriptions for our lives today.
So what is meant by bearing our cross? This is where many Western Christians tend to go wrong, according to Yoder. We view our cross as any struggle in life. But Yoder shows that the cross means much more than trials and struggles.
1) The Cross is Purposed: "The cross of Calvary was not a difficult family situation, not a frustration of visions of personal fulfillment, a crushing debt, or a nagging in-law; it was the political, legally-to-be-expected result of a moral clash with the powers ruling [Christ's] society." Bearing our cross does not mean dealing with life's normal trials. It means living a life that inevitably leads to self-sacrifice and crucifixion. The cross of Christ was not Jesus offending rulers on a bad day, it was the culmination of a three year ministry that defied the powers that be. The cross was an inevitability for Christ and it is an inevitability for the Christian who lives like Christ, defying political, social, and religious institutions that enslave us to their definitions of needs and effectiveness. In fact, the Bible promises us in a number of places that if Christ was persecuted, so it will be for those who follow him.
This point was particularly convicting, as I have not lived a life worthy of persecution up to this point. I haven't challenged socially oppressive economic systems, systemic racism, and religious corruption. In many cases I have willfully blinded myself to these things so I wouldn't have to be faced with the daily choice between persecution and ease. Yet when we see the fervor with which the early church not only experienced, but embraced persecution, it is very convicting. It seems early believers understood that persecution was the inevitability of the Christian faith to be embraced, whereas we now view it as a liability to be avoided. However, Yoder makes very clear that embracing of martyrdom should not be done for the sake of martyrdom, but for the sake of love and the Kingdom.
"This Gospel concept of the cross of the Christian does not mean that suffering is thought of as in itself redemptive or that martyrdom is a value to be sought after. Nor does it refer uniquely to being persecuted for 'religious' reasons by an outspokenly pagan government. What Jesus refers to in his call to cross-bearing is rather the seeming defeat of that strategy of obedience which is no strategy, the inevitable suffering of those whose only goal is to be faithful to that love which puts one at the mercy of one's neighbor, which abandons claims to justice for oneself and for one's own in an overriding concern for the reconciling of the adversary and the estranged."
We do not embrace martyrdom and suffering for their own sake, but for the sake of agape love.
2) The Cross is not Insurrection or Quietism: If one does not engage in the politics of the day, many falsely dichotomize the remaining political options as being a quietist or insurrectionist. If the world is in desperate need of change and you abstain from invoking the powers of the day (political, religious, and business institutions), then you are either a quietist or insurrectionist. If you simply withdraw from action, then you are not really playing in the game. On the other hand, if you go outside of the system to overthrow the powers through other means or force, then you are an insurrectionist intending to upend order. But Christ engages in constant politics without being either a quietist or insurrectionist.
The cross of Christ was the culmination of choices made in both the political and social sphere. The call of at least one zealot (and as many as six) to be disciples flew in the face of Roman political sentiment. The call of Christ to Matthew, the tax collector, flew in the face of religious Jewish sentiment. Being in league with John the Baptist, who was executed for political reasons made him a danger to Rome. Treating the societal outcasts, the overt sinners, the Samaritans, and others with love and respect upended the social order of both Rome and the religious leaders. Most of what Jesus did was outside of any accepted political, social, or religious sphere. As Yoder says,
"Because Jesus' particular way of rejecting the sword and at the same time condemning those who wielded it was politically relevant, both the Sanhedrin and the Procurator had to deny him the right to live, in the name of both of their forms of political responsibility. His alternative was so relevant, so much of a threat, that Pilate could afford to free, in exchange for Jesus, the ordinary Guevara-type insurrectionist Barrabas. Jesus' way is not less but more relevant to the question of how society moves than is the struggle for possession of the levers of command; to this Pilate and Caiaphas testify by their judgment on him...[Jesus] refused to concede that those in power represent an ideal, a logically proper, or even an empirically acceptable definition of what it means to be political. He did not say (as some sectarian pacifists or some pietists might), 'you can have your politics and I shall do something else more important'; he said, "your definition of polis, of the social, of the wholeness of being human socially is perverted.'"
Jesus was crucified precisely because what he did was social and political, but outside of any of the accepted social or political powers that could claim him and protect him. This is exactly why the religious leaders had to kill him and the Rome that prided itself on orderly law had to run a kangaroo court to convict him. Christ's way held more power than any other way, even more than the overt zealotry of Barrabas. The cross does not accept political and social lines of order. Human institutions are founded on order in hopes that they will bring about good and love for some. The cross is about a love and good for all first, which in turn will bring about true human community. The cross may seem like a quietist option to the political and religious institutions that are bellowing "effectiveness” and “order!" But the cross bellows "love!" The cross only seems quiet if you've bought into a message that drowns out agape love.
3) The Cross is not the Golden Rule:
"It is often mistakenly held that the key concept of Jesus' ethic is the 'Golden Rule': 'do to others as you would have them do to you.' This is stated by Jesus, however, not as the sum of his own teaching but as the center of the law. But Jesus' own 'fulfillment' of this thrust of the law, which thereby becomes through his own works a 'new commandment,' is different. 'Do as I have done to you' or 'do as the Father did in sending his Son.' It is striking how great is the mass of writings on religious ethics seeking to deal specifically with whether the teaching of Jesus is any different from that of the rabbis (or of Confucius), which still fails to note this very evident structural change."
I can't tell you how many times I've heard it said that Christianity stole the Golden Rule from earlier religious leaders. While we could discuss how the amazing commonalities speak more to a core morality inherent in humanity rather than a necessarily borrowed and constructed ethic, it is important to note that Christianity goes far beyond the Golden Rule. While Jesus does tell us to treat others like we would treat ourselves, he demolishes that metric by then telling us that we need to go even beyond that. We are to love others - even our enemies - more than our own life. This isn't just hot air either, as Christ proved on the cross. The cross isn't merely bearing the difficulty of being nice to other nice people even if you're having a bad day. Rather, the cross is choosing to return love to those who cause you to bear difficulties, even in the midst of their malice.
In summary, Yoder has made a number of important points about the specificity of the cross. The cross is borne because of a continued choice to abstain from the powers that be and a move towards the laying down of our lives for even our enemies. In all of the scriptures, one of, if not the only way we are consistently told to imitate Christ is in bearing such a cross. The life of Christ's disciple is one that inevitably leads to persecution on all sides - from religious and political institutions (and likely businesses in our society) - because we refuse to buy into their definitions of power, control, effectiveness, society, and order.