I saw this cartoon http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m3hs2cN82s1ql5tkgo1_1280.jpg in the most recent “Christianity Today” and for some reason got thinking about the difference between “a thorn in the flesh”, and “picking up your cross”. The sponge in this cartoon could be replaced by a purple dinosaur (anybody remember Barney?), a spouse, child, co-worker, in-law, a bad back, or a yapping dog that the neighbors leave out in the yard. That person, thing, annoyance is a thorn, not a cross.
We’ve all heard someone say that we all have our cross to bear, but the tendency seems to be to apply the term to things that are really pretty minor compared to what Jesus meant when he said to pick up a cross and follow. The cross in Jesus’ time was a symbol of torture, it was reserved for notorious criminals, and when Jesus said to pick up a cross and follow, he was basically saying if you’re going to follow me, you have to understand that this cross might be your destiny…you’re going to have to buck the system, and in my name you’re going to make some people unhappy. There is going to be suffering, and it will be because you’re one of my disciples. Think Peter being crucified upside down, or James being beheaded.
The thorn in the flesh, on the other hand, has more of a sense of annoyances, inconveniences, things that distract us, get in the way of carrying out the mission that Jesus has given us. Paul asked god to remove the thorn, and God said that His grace was sufficient, Paul managed to continue working on the things that Christ Jesus had given him to do.
When we confuse the thorn and the cross, we magnify our part in the story at the expense of the Cross and Jesus’ part in God’s plan for all of us.
I’m wondering what I’m confusing for my cross.
How about you? Is there a thorn in your side that you want to call the cross that you’re carrying for Jesus?