Life is not fair. It wasn't fair to Jesus; it isn't fair to most of us.
Most unfair is the undeserved suffering that marks our lives -- personal misfortune, poverty, disease, accidents. We Christians face no greater obstacle to personal faith.
Paul also faced this problem. In his letter to the Philippians -- written while in prison -- he shows how he faced his suffering. Paul cites a familiar Christian hymn that brought him comfort in prison. He hoped the hymn would bring comfort to his fellow Philippian converts who were also being persecuted by the Romans for their faith. Some were even being put to death.
The advice for handling undeserved suffering is profoundly simple: handle it the way Jesus did - "Have among yourselves the same attitude that is yours in Christ Jesus." The hymn is quick to remind Christians that Jesus truly did suffer and was never protected from suffering because of his equality with God; he was truly like us "taking the form of a slave and coming in human likeness."
How did Jesus handle his suffering? He opened himself totally to God, humbling himself and being ready to embrace whatever God willed. We get insight into Jesus' attitude from his prayer in Gethsemani before his passion and death. After pleading three times in prayer that his chalice of suffering be taken away he finally grasped that it was his father's will that he embrace his crucifixion and so, "he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross."
Then comes the comfort: precisely because of his acceptance a remarkable thing happened: Jesus was raised from the dead and transformed, "Because of this God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him a name that is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend."
The lesson for us is clear: unmerited suffering handled with trust in God is transforming. When all human supports are gone and we throw ourselves absolutely into the arms of our Father, we can be changed. External observers may see nothing but senseless tragedy but we have been invited into a radical new intimacy with our Father -- an intimacy possible only because the suffering itself has opened a new dimension of faith and trust.
And handling suffering in faith places us at the heart of the Christian mystery: we are participating with Jesus in his Paschal Mystery.
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