Daily Reflection
July 25th, 2002
Gene Selk
Philosophy Department
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Feast of St. James the Apostle
2 Corinthians 4:7-15
Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Matthew 20:20-28

The theme that I selected from today’s reading from second Corinthians and from the gospel of Matthew is suffering.  In the first reading, Paul talks about being “afflicted in every way, . . . perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed.”  Later in the reading, he links his suffering with hope in the resurrection.  

We should not expect the scriptures to give us a full-blown theodicy, that is, a theory reconciling a good and loving God with suffering.  The scriptures are not about philosophical theories.  Nonetheless, there is a long tradition in Christianity of complementing the scriptures with philosophical and theological theories.  So here is a sketch of a theodicy.  I suggest that God gives a high degree of autonomy not only to humans but to the cosmos.  God sustains and cares for all that exists, but he doesn’t constantly interfere in events like a puppeteer or a magician.  The unfolding of natural events in the universe inevitably carries with it waste and human suffering.  But how does Jesus’ life and teachings complement this view of the cosmos and of God’s relation to it?  

First, Paul links suffering, as he does all of his reflections, to the life of Jesus.  Jesus did not explain suffering, but he showed us how to work through suffering.  During his ministry, he often suffered with the cares and ills of the people he met.  And he accepted the cross (literally and figuratively) at the end of his life, even while crying out to God to lift this burden from him, just as when we suffer we beg God to take our suffering away. Paul comments that “the life of Jesus . . . [is] manifested in our moral flesh,” that is, our suffering may be taken as being in solidarity with the suffering of Jesus.   And then Paul turns to the resurrection and trusts that God will give us as a gift ongoing life when all suffering will be redeemed with and in God.  

In today’s gospel reading, the mother of James and John asks that her two sons sit at the left and right of Jesus in his Kingdom.  Jesus initially answers, addressing the two sons, with a question: “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”  In this passage, Jesus does not explicitly refer to the cross, but from a post-crucifixion and post-resurrection perspective, we can say that Jesus is asking us whether we can, in following him, accept both the glory and the suffering.  James and John answer confidently that they can.  Our prayer today might be to ask God for the confidence of James and John to accept our suffering, and the hope and trust that all will in some way be overcome in the resurrected order.

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