Today’s gospel contains part of the instructions that Jesus gave his disciples before he sent them out to “the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” Matthew seems to include teaching that is found elsewhere in Luke and thus the preparation for the mission is much longer than the accounts given by Mark or Luke. It is in fact a programme for anyone who wants to follow Christ. Taking up the cross would have been well understood by his listeners: the Roman general Varus crucified two thousand Jews who had rebelled, and since crucifixion was very public Jesus’ followers would be only too aware of what they could be facing. A disciple must be single-minded. Normally good family relationships would be part of loving God but sometimes a person can be forced to choose between the two. John Bunyan realised that his family would suffer hardships if he continued to witness to his beliefs but he knew he had to stand firm in his faith. By the time this gospel was written, Jerusalem had been destroyed and there had been a savage persecution of Christians under Nero, when Peter and Paul and many others were martyred. Suffering is part of discipleship.
Suffering, however, is not good in itself: Jesus spent his life alleviating it. For most people, taking up the cross would seem to be trying to live in a loving relationship with God and neighbour and facing everyday trials in a Christian spirit.
"Teach us to serve you as you deserve." (St Ignatius of Loyola)