Thursday, June 17, 2010

Redemptive suffering in Christ

Twelfth Ordinary Sunday Year C

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a god that will bless us with riches and good fortune, a god that will protect us from all harms, a god that will solve all our problems? When I reflect upon my own Chinese culture, I realised that we, being the pragmatists that we are, will use anything or pray to any god that will benefit us personally. The most popular gods are those that give us wealth and health. This was the kind of God or Christ that Peter was thinking off in today’s gospel. For Peter, Christ has come to liberate Israel from their conquerors, the Romans, and lead the whole nation of Israel back to their glorious past. For Peter, Jesus, through his miracles, is the solution to all problems.

But Jesus gives a very different picture of his role. Jesus speaks of himself being “destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death.” He wants Peter and his disciples to understand that this is the most important image of God – the God who is prepared to suffer and die for us because he loves us.

If we want to be disciples of Christ, we must also be willing to “renounce ourselves and take up our cross every day and follow him.” Whatever happiness we may seek in this world is always temporary happiness. Having obtained what we have desired – whether it be a better job, or a bigger house, or a beautiful wife, or a good husband, more money – we become easily dissatisfied and begin to search for other things that will satisfy. But nothing can truly satisfy but the love of God. True happiness comes from us knowing that God loves us and that is all that is needed. This is eternal life - to know that God loves us so much that he is prepared to give his only Son to die for us.

The only way to attain this true happiness, the only way to attain eternal life is this: we must be willing to renounce all other things which may deceive us into thinking that they can promise us lasting happiness. In fact, much unhappiness comes from us striving for things that we either can never attain or which we leaves us wanting more. We must die to these desires in order that we may desire only for God. We must die to our selfishness and our greed and be reborn again in Jesus Christ.

That is why St. Paul tells the Galatians that all of us who have been baptized in Christ, are now clothed in Christ and “there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female,” but are all made one in Christ. It is interesting to note how in the face of tragedy and suffering, people are brought together in solidarity and support for each other. For example, estranged members of the family who have not been talking with each other are brought together at the funeral of a parent. Or how families and friends and even strangers come to help and support those who have experienced some personal tragedy.

Suffering is not our enemy. Jesus has taught us this through his life example. This does not mean that we must intentionally look for suffering and cause unnecessary suffering to ourselves and to others. We all experience pain and suffering because this world is not a perfect world, and we humans are not perfect and we continue to hurt and be hurt by each other. But when suffering comes, we can either choose to complain and become bitter and angry with others, with ourselves and with God; or we can choose to see how God can bring some good out of this experience - life out of death.

Today, let us bring all our problems, our pains and all our sufferings before Jesus knowing that he truly understand what we are going through because he too had experienced this on the cross. Let us learn from him, how our crosses – our sufferings - can become fountains of new life.

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