Isaiah is addressing a community that for years that been in exile, slaves in a foreign land. And Isaiah brings to them words of hope in spite of their suffering. Beaten down by fifty years of exile, Isaiah’s community is ready to give up all hope of freedom. But Isaiah urges the people to march on in spite of “buffets and spitting.” Because, for Isaiah, God is our help and faithfulness to God will bring about our freedom and peace. In a way, Isaiah was saying what Jesus is saying about taking up our cross.
Before Jesus was crucified, his disciples would probably not understand what it meant to take up the cross. The image only makes sense after the crucifixion.
“Many scholars say that the historical Jesus originally said, ‘You are to carry your tau.’ A ‘t’ was the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Pious Jews sometimes employed it as a sign that they were willing to do whatever Yahweh asked of them. Just as we say we are going to do something from ‘A to Z, Jews would say they are going to do something from ‘aleph to tau’.” And St. Francis of Assisi took the “tau” has his sacred symbol to remind himself that he was “another Christ.”
Carrying one’s “tau” most often does not result in physical death—although many have died in the cause of justice and many more probably will. But for most of us, carrying our “tau” means that we are open to all God expects of us, every day of our lives. And the “whatever” is not static, like a specific cross. It changes every day, every hour.
For Mark, being open, willing to carry out whatever God asks of us, is the first step in becoming another Christ. Isaiah says: “Yahweh God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I might hear….” (Isa 50:4a).
Some of the saints in the church have given special importance to being faithful to Jesus is all things—little as well as big. In fact one saint, St. Therese of The Child Jesus, practiced the “Little Way.” She saw that whatever she did—washing clothes, writing, praying—all were part of carrying the cross. And each day that cross comes to us in ways we least expect.
We pray that each of us will be open to following Jesus in the small, insignificant ways so that when our time comes he will say to us “well done good and faithful servant.”