JESUS CARRIED OUR SUFFERINGS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ISA 52:13 – 53:12; HEB 4:14-16; 5:7-9; JOHN 18:1 – 19:42 ]
We all suffer. From the time we come out of our mother’s womb to the time we return to the tomb, we are crying. Suffering is part and parcel of human life. No one is exempted from suffering. Whether you are powerful or weak, healthy or sick, rich or poor, famous or unknown, young or old, we all suffer in some ways. We all have to carry our daily crosses as the Lord instructed His disciples. We have responsibility for those who have been entrusted to us, our children, loved ones and our friends. We also hold responsibility for the burden of office and work as well. But these sufferings are less burdensome compared to the suffering that comes from our sins and the sins of others. Indeed, we know that many of our sufferings come from our folly and our mistakes in life. We have been irresponsible, lazy and careless in our work and tasks. But the suffering that we cannot bear is often the suffering that is caused by others, whether due to their selfishness or the result of natural disasters. Such suffering comes under the category of innocent suffering. We feel a great sense of injustice because we feel we do not deserve the suffering. Why should we suffer on account of the injustices and selfishness of humanity? Why should we be made to suffer when we have committed no sins. And so, we ask, “Why?”
We want to know the meaning of our suffering, especially innocent and unjust suffering. Freewill is one of the reasons for our suffering. We are given the grace to choose between God and the world, the way of love of God and neighbour or the way of selfishness. Because we are free, we can choose to live a life of charity and justice or selfishness and injustice. We can live an honest and upright life or an immoral life causing ourselves and people around us to suffer. Purification is another reason for suffering. Through our sufferings, we can grow in holiness and be purified in love. Either through our own sufferings or through carrying the sufferings of others, we are taught patience, humility, compassion, acceptance and the ultimate meaning of life. When we suffer patiently, cheerfully and courageously for love, we edify others who are suffering as well or are journeying with those who suffer.
In the final analysis, suffering is the way to partake in the Passion of God. This is why we celebrate the Passion of our Lord on Good Friday. Passion signifies the overwhelming love for something or someone. Passion is also another word for suffering. Whoever loves will have to suffer. All passion entails a sacrifice of some sort. Even if it is passion for a sport, or music or beauty, we have to discipline ourselves. Most of all, when we love others, we will have to suffer for them and make sacrifices for their good and happiness. That is why, when we think of the Passion of Christ, it gives us consolation that we do not suffer alone but we suffer with the Lord and for the Lord and His people.
Indeed, in Christ, God the Father suffers with us. The suffering of our Lord is the way God enters most intimately into the suffering of humanity. In Christ, the Lord does not simply watch us suffer due to our sins and folly but He takes on our sufferings by identifying with us in our humanity. The letter of Hebrews says, “For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin.” Isaiah said, “And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried. But we, we thought of him as someone punished, struck by God, and brought low. Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins.”
Jesus not only suffered the frailty of humanity but also the effects of the sins of others. He was betrayed by His closest disciples when Peter, James and John could not keep vigil with Him in prayer in the darkest moment of His life. So, should we be surprised that often when we are suffering intensely, not even our loved ones are with us or could understand what is going on inside of us? But the most painful of all betrayals was the denial of the disciples, including Peter who was too cowardly to even acknowledge before a high priest’s servant and a maid that he knew his master. Of course, one cannot imagine how Judas could betray his master by selling Him for a song and with a kiss of peace! (cf Lk 22:47) This was the height of the hypocrisy of a traitor.
Jesus too suffered the injustices that we often suffer in the hands of our fellowmen. We have been slandered, abused and discriminated. The Jewish religious leaders and the Romans wanted Jesus to be killed simply because He was considered a rebel and a potential cause of disorder as He was challenging the status quo of Judaism and especially the conduct and motives of the religious leaders. So they sought to frame Jesus with all kinds of charges. Yet, when Pilate saw the selfish motives of the leaders who instigated the people to ask for Jesus’ death, he went along with them. He said, “I find no case against him.” Indeed, the religious leaders and the people committed the highest form of treason. By denying that God was their king, they went against their fundamental belief. “Pilate said to the Jews, ‘Here is your king.’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.'”
But Jesus taught us to be faithful to our identity and our dreams. He said to Pilate, “Mine is not a kingdom of this world. Yes, I am a King, I was born for this, I came into the world for this; to bear witness to my truth, and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” Jesus was ready to stand up for His identity as the Son of the Father. When the enemies came to Jesus, the Lord without hesitation and without fear said, “I am he. I have told you that I am he. If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.” He was courageous and was ready to go to the cross for His profession of faith. When Simon Peter cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” How many of us are ashamed of our identity as a Catholic, a Child of God before the world? How many of us proudly let the world know that we are Christians, or do we fear being ridiculed by the world and suffer discrimination?
If we are true to our identity, then the world will believe in what we say. Indeed, this was the case for Jesus’ enemies who recognized Him as the Son of God, the true man. We read, “When Jesus said ‘I am he’, they moved back and fell to the ground.” They experienced the divine presence in Him. Then later on Pilate said to them, “Here is the man.” The Jews replied, “We have a Law, and according to the Law he ought to die, because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
Indeed, we cannot imagine the extent, not just of the physical suffering of Christ on the cross, but of His emotional suffering and that of His soul from the Garden of Gethsemane till His passion on the cross. The first reading captures the state of Jesus perfectly when the prophet wrote, “Like a root in arid ground. Without majesty (we saw him), no looks to attract our eyes; a thing despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrow and familiar with suffering, a man to make people screen their faces; he was despised and we took no account of him.”
He is the suffering servant of Isaiah as prophesied. “On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed. We had all gone astray like sheep, each taking his own way, and the Lord burdened him with the sins of all of us. The Lord has been pleased to crush him with suffering. If he offers his life in atonement, he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.”
Truly, it was His innocent suffering that justifies us. By looking at His suffering for us, we cannot but be convinced of the love and mercy of God for us. “His soul’s anguish over, he shall see the light and be content. By his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself.” It is for this reason that we are called to turn to Him in our suffering. The Letter of Hebrews says, “Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.”
So, if we are suffering today, whether through our faults or that of others, we must learn from Jesus to pray fervently for God’s strength to endure. The letter of Hebrews says, “During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, the Lord said, “Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Lk 22:41)
With Jesus, let us do God’s will in holy obedience. “Although he was son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey the source of eternal salvation and was acclaimed by God with the title of high priest of the order of Melchizedeck.” Only in obedience to our identity as sons and daughters of the Father, can we live a life of fidelity, justice and compassion. With Jesus, let us surrender our lives and our plans and the mystery of suffering to the Father. With the psalmist we pray, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. In you, O Lord, I take refuge. Let me never be put to shame. It is you who will redeem me, Lord. My life is in your hands, deliver me from the hands of those who hate me.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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