It seems like a lifetime ago and a world away. The truth is, it was only fifteen years ago and about one hour away by car, from where I live. I used to call it a publicity stunt or theatrical marketing, now I just call it out of the question. That season has passed and along with it the physical strength needed to accomplish the demanding task. I admit it, I am old, or at least older. I never want to stop carrying my cross, obediently following Jesus’ command, however I am far beyond my literal cross carrying years.
Yes I did just say, “my literal cross carrying years.”
A few Friday nights or Saturdays every month from late spring to early fall in the heart of downtown Toronto you would see me and a group of five or six people. See me may be an understatement. You couldn’t stop yourself from seeing me. It was tough not to look at a man in a gown with a crown of thorns on his head and a cross on his back walking down the sidewalk. As we passed people, one of our group would ask, “do you want to know why he is doing this?” If you answered yes (it was tough not to) they handed you a pamphlet with a brief explanation and phone numbers to call for more information. If you wanted to talk we would stop and talk.
The response was interesting to say the least.
You would think that the people most likely to object would be those who did not consider Christ following a valid option. You would think that Christians would embrace this visual proclamation of the selfless act of Jesus. You would think this, and you would be wrong. Our biggest opposition was from those who called themselves Christians. I wasn’t overly upset by this, after all these people weren’t the people we were targeting. During each three to four hour cross carrying outreach, we saw every type of reaction. People shouted insults, radio announcers would mention that they just saw Jesus walk by in the middle of their live broadcast. Sometimes people would try to trip me, while other times they would walk by pretending not to notice me. I had one guy wipe the fake blood off my nose and stick it in his mouth while others just stopped and stared. Still, it was worth it because we often got the chance to talk to people about the reason behind this carrying the cross publicity stunt.
I never claimed to be anything more than a dramatic representation being used as a marketing tool.
One Friday night I was walking down Yonge Street, the main drag of Toronto, and in the distance I heard someone yelling, “Jesus is coming.” I have been mocked and I have had people follow me around, I have been personally insulted and I have had people tell me they were impressed by my commitment to my faith. Someone yelling, “Jesus is coming” was just part of another cross carrying outreach. The group and I continued to walk down the sidewalk handing out pamphlets and talking to people. Just as we were almost in front of the person yelling, we heard her yell again, “Jesus is coming” followed by, “and that’s not him” as she pointed at me.
Needless to say, her sidewalk evangelism was overshadowed by the arrival of a theatrical version of the person she loudly proclaimed was coming. During the hustle and bustle of a Friday night in the city anything you yell will most likely be ignored and most definitely be upstaged by a man carrying a cross with a crown of thorns on his head, stage blood running down his face wearing a “dress.”
Two different ways to evangelize but only one way to live.
In a world that for the most part does not accept Jesus as anything more than a good person from history, yelling about Jesus is often a waste of your breath. The cross carrying outreach had more traction because it forced people to think about the theatrics they just saw. Still, to adopt it as a sure-fire way to evangelize would be ridiculous. There is however, a lesson that can be applied to the way we live our lives.
Take up your cross daily: you may not open yourself to the same ridicule as my theatrical marketing, but you can expect people to dislike you because you are willing to live your life for Jesus.
Draw attention to Jesus: you may not draw the same attention as my publicity stunt, but you have the opportunity to constantly point to the one you follow, the one who gave up His life for you.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)