In today’s gospel reading the Lord’s words of both warning and encouragement for his disciples run a pattern we have encountered before in the Sermon of the Mount [Mt. 5:11-13]. In both passages Jesus speaks of suffering and of being persecuted as a likely component of discipleship, to which history has testified in more than just a few isolated cases. Indeed what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “the cost of discipleship” has been inseparable from the following of Christ.
Yet there is in both passages a note of caution, perhaps in anticipation of some people’s inclination to play the victim’s role and to attribute to the cost of discipleship what amounts to no more than the price tag on our own blunders. A key qualifier to Jesus’ warning/encouragement is “ON ACCOUNT OF MY NAME” [today’s reading] or “ON MY ACCOUNT” [Mt. 5:11]. The suffering and persecution we bring on ourselves as a result of our mistakes and shortsightedness come to us on our account, not on Jesus’ account, and pseudo-spiritualizing them as the cost of discipleship does not change their inglorious nature.
Ignatius of Loyola prefaced the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus with a “General Examen” addressed to candidates seeking admission to the Society. He presents to them in a manner reminiscent of the beatitudes and of today’s passage the desirable attitude of seeking to imitate Jesus in being despised and persecuted. But he too inserts a cautionary note, perhaps in order to forestall the possibility of a “victim soul complex.” He writes: “...they desire to suffer injuries, false accusations and affronts, and to be held and esteemed as fools, BUT WITHOUT GIVING ANY OCCASION FOR THIS...” (emphasis mine) [General Examen, #101,5].
It is so easy to pseudo-spiritualize the trials and tribulations we foist on ourselves as being a sign of our marching closely in the following of the Lord. And, once we slip into this kind of attitude, there is no easy way out of it, convinced as we are that it is nothing short of holiness and that God has chosen us as victim souls. Jesus was indeed a victim (soul and body), but not as a result of any blunders of his.
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