From “No Handle on the Cross:
An Asian Meditation on the Crucified Mind”
by Kosuke Koyama, 1929-2009
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt.l6.24)
Jesus demands self-denial from us if we would come after him. The image of self-denial, given without any hesitation, is the cross. Self-denial must express itself through a socially recognisable symbol. What a thing to carry, of all things! What a heavy, badly-shaped, demoralising object it is to take along as we follow him! Will it not slow down our pace? Will it not produce a persecution complex within us? Will it not make us too serious, too nervous, too sensitive, too emotional to ﬁt into the normal run of every-day life? Picture the image of a man carrying the cross and following a man who goes ahead with his cross! What a procession! What a spectacle!
“I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.” (I Cor.4.9)
In following him, why is it necessary to take up a cross? In following him, why is the outward sign and inner mind to be a cross? Why not a lunch-box?
Why not a nourishing lunch-box in which are found boiled eggs (devilled eggs preferably), sliced Swiss cheese, a piece of New Zealand lamb chop and green lettuce and a thermos of hot coffee? How about such an over-developed, caloried-salaried, international, technological, carefully-packed lunch-box for the sake of Jesus Christ? It is an attractively shaped box with a neat handle for carrying. It is not heavy. How psychologically and physically strengthening to carry such a lovely and substantial lunch-box! You know how our souls, let alone stomachs, are peacefully tranquil when our hands feel the comfortable weight of a lunch-box? Food is essential for any man. It must be essential in the matter of following him too. How dare we follow Jesus with an empty stomach? Does not a Japanese proverb say that “you cannot fight with an empty stomach?”
With a nourishing and well-filled lunch-box in our hands, we can whistle and light-footedly follow Jesus from “victory unto victory.” The lunch-box symbolises our resourcefulness, spiritual and mental energy, high-powered substantial theology, good honest thinking, careful (international and technological) planning and sacred commitment to our faith. Why not, then, “let him prepare himself and take up his lunch-box and follow me?” We can be and will remain energetic and resourceful. If necessary, we can even walk ahead of Jesus instead of following him.
The contrast is between the cross and the lunch-box: an extremely inconvenient thing to carry (without a handle) and an extremely convenient thing to carry (with a handle); an ugly thing to carry and an attractive thing to carry; slow movement and fast movement; inefficiency and efficiency; insecurity and security; heavy-footedness and light-footedness; pain and glory; self-denial and self-assertion.
The cross does not have a handle. The lunch box has a handle. May I invite you to meditate on this image?
“Handle” stands for a means of efficient control. Automobiles with powerful engines obey us because we control them through the handle (steering wheel). Doors can be efficiently controlled if we operate them by their handles. It is through switches that we control electric appliances of all kinds. Developed technological devices give us engines (power) and handles (control). Uncontrolled power is not technology. Technology is a controlled power. In that sense, it is not dangerous. In contrast, theology has a danger signal. The signal will be switched on if man yields to the strong temptation to control God.
The prayer of King Solomon, “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee,” (II Chron. 6.18), represents a right theological perception.
The basic difference between technology and theology is that the former gives us both an engine and a handle, whereas, the latter has an engine but no handle. Theology that puts a handle to the power of God is no longer a theology but a demonic theological ideology. Theology must refuse to handle the saving power of God. It tries to speak about it. It tries to sing “Magnificat” about it. It meditates about it. But it does not handle it as we handle our car or washing machine. Theology, then, must not handle people either.
The technological mind is, in short, handle-minded, while the theological mind is non-handle-minded. Technology aims to control physical power. Theology does not aim to control the power of God. Theology, then, must not be approached with technological handle-mindedness. It is said that in the India of ancient Vedic times one of the reasons for the ascendancy of the Brahmin priestly class in the community was their claim that they alone knew how to officiate in elaborate sacrificial rites to appease and control the gods. There is a touch of technological handle-mindedness here.
I notice the presence of such a mind in the prayer: “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.” (Luke 18.1 1,12)
The mind which is trained under the weight of the cross without a handle is called the crucified mind. The mind which is trained in carrying essential resourcefulness with a handle is called the crusading mind.
The Pharisaic prayer makes a contrast to the prayer of the tax collector: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.
I do not intend to reject the crusading mind. The lunch-box-carrying crusading mind must be carefully and kindly dealt with in the community of faith. I believe that it has a God-given role to play in our mission. But I maintain that the crusading mind must not function by itself. It must be guided and illuminated by the crucified mind. The lifestyle of the Pharisee is commendable. The religious dedication and spiritual resourcefulness of the Pharisee are of high value.
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5.20)
His theological lunch-box is full of high-protein foods.
The famous parable ends, however, with this devastating conclusion: “I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went down to his house justified rather than the other (the Pharisee).”
Does not this mean that such a dedicated religious and spiritual resourcefulness as the Pharisee exhibited is unable to create the right kind of relationship with his God and with his fellow-men? Why is the Pharisee’s dedication misguided? Why is the world today, in every area of human existence, full of the tragedy of mutilated resourcefulness? Why does not the New Testament draw a quick and assuring connection line between justification and resourcefulness?
The crusading mind must be placed in the light of the crucified mind in order to be crucified and risen.
I understand this to be the reason why Jesus did not say, “let him assert himself and take up his lunch-box and follow me.”
Resourcefulness (that over-developed lunch-box) must be theologically judged and contextualised in order to become genuinely resourceful. Resourcefulness must then be crucified. When it is resurrected it will become a theologically-baptised resourcefulness. Asian church history is telling us today that often missionaries’ resourcefulness has resulted in the impoverishment of native participation in the mission of God. Resourceful persons do not seek help from others. They know exactly what to do. They have “better ideas.” They have “better strategies.”
“God, I thank thee that I am not like other men who are not resourceful.”
In the perspective of mission together in the six continents, we urgently need ecumenical meditation on the theology of crucified resourcefulness.