Paul, like Jesus, also insists on the necessity of suffering. He wrote to the Corinthians that he rejoiced in his sufferings as they made up for “what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:24). Here an important distinction needs to be made. Paul doesn’t suggest that Jesus’ perfect sacrifice was lacking in any respect. He uses the term “Christ” in the sense of Christ’s continuing saving presence in our world in the lives and work of his disciples, the Church. Suffering is an unavoidable accompaniment of discipleship and a sign that it is the true Gospel that is being preached. It is not so much that suffering has value for its own sake, as it is that the forces of evil do not give up easily.
We have to remind ourselves constantly that being a disciple is not primarily about following the rules and being religiously observant. The Pharisees did that. Anyone who seriously goes about God’s work, spreading the Gospel (i.e., the Good News of God’s victory over evil), will encounter opposition and suffering. And not just from textbook evil tyrants, such as those who killed the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador, but for most of us it will come from neighbors, co-workers, employers, government officials, even family.
Lent is coming soon. A good time to ask ourselves whether we are truly promoting God’s vision for God’s world, especially if things are going smoothly for us. And if we are meeting opposition, whether it is because we ourselves are off-base, or because the spirit that moves us is truly God’s Spirit – never an easy discernment. Plenty of work for us to do as we prepare to celebrate God’s victory at Easter.
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