Jesus was at pains to insist that he neither wanted nor had followers, but friends. "I have called you friends," he explains to his disciples, "because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (John 15:15). Those who sought to learn from him would not copy his attitudes and behaviours, but would undertake the more difficult business of plumbing their own depths, exploring and embracing their own selves, and shouldering full responsibility for their very being. Or, as he famously expressed it, they would take up their own cross - a cross that was distinct from his.
This learning process, this discipleship, is dynamic and subject to constant variation, consistent with any relationship between and among living beings... The process of daily, constant learning about self and one's world is a demanding discipleship and the central activity of discernment. Understood this way, we see that any so-called discipleship that obscures or escapes such learning is not worthy of the name; it is just evasion, denial, busyness, and distraction, and ultimately, destructive dishonesty. True discipleship not only dirties the hands, it breaks the heart, opens the mind, and stretches the nerves, as all good learning does. Yet, paradoxically, it is this very dangerous conversation that constitutes the core of discipleship and the intimate heart of relationship with God.Transforming Vocation, Sam Portaro, Church Publishing, 2008, with thanks to Speaking to the Soul
Taking up one's cross is just part of being one with Jesus, his friend rather than his servant. We can serve Christ without this identification with him in his suffering: we can stand outside the intimate and messy process of discipleship and say, "What precepts did Jesus teach, so that I can obey them?" and continue as sterile jobsworths in the bureaucracy of religion, binding loads for others to carry. Or we can open our hearts, as Jesus did, to the poor and the broken and rejected, to the unacceptable people, the lepers and the swindlers and the adulterers and the ritually unclean. Identifying ourselves, as Jesus and Francis did, with those Isaiah wrote of in his Chapter 61, will lead only to the Cross; and the Cross is the only way to life:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour.Isaiah 61.1-3, as quoted by Jesus in Luke 4.14ff