Jesus did not waver in His suffering

  • October 8, 2009
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Oct. 18 (Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 33; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45)

Suffering — is it good or bad? We are appalled by the overwhelming amount of suffering in the world and we want to alleviate this suffering. At the same time, we speak of suffering in terms of a positive force with a redemptive value. Much depends on who is suffering and why.

Very few people get through life unscathed. Everyone has their particular weaknesses, struggles and disappointments, and life can deal out some heavy body blows — tragedies and disasters as well as illness and failure. But the worst is betrayal and injustice: it seems so unfair and senseless.

We must be very careful when speaking of suffering, for it has often been used to excuse or justify what is clearly unjust. Those labouring under the burden of cruelty and injustice cannot be put off with bromides such as “offer it up” or “my kingdom is not of this world.” For suffering to be redemptive it must be accepted and the motivation must be love. Isaiah’s Suffering Servant passage portrays this so well — the one who quietly and humbly accepts the injustice and abuse dished out by powerful oppressors as a stand-in for his own people.

We should not be misled by archaic religious language — it is not the will of God to crush anyone. It can be said that his pain ultimately served a divine purpose. We do not know who this servant was — it was during the Babylonian exile. Many scholars believe that the servant could be a metaphor for Israel itself. The reward of the suffering servant will be the knowledge that his resolute and courageous stand will rouse many to moral and spiritual renewal. He is the model or paradigm for all great spiritual and moral reformers and leaders throughout history. They will willingly sacrifice comfort, physical safety, reputation and even their very lives for the advancement of others. We would do far better to adopt them as role models rather than the questionable cultural idols of our own time.

Jesus Himself is portrayed in the New Testament as the perfect expression of the Suffering Servant. He faced temptation and trial as well as physical suffering and death and yet He did not waver. Jesus could have taken the path of so many by either becoming bitter, angry and cynical or by resorting to force and violence. He could have walked away from it all and led what others would have called a “good” life. But suffering combined with unconditional love for others is a powerful force. He was able to transcend human limitations and the bonds of Earth and pass through the heavens. As high priest Jesus is able to empathize with our suffering and weakness — we can never claim that we are alone and misunderstood.

Does our own suffering and weakness make us more compassionate and merciful to others or more harsh and unforgiving? The choice is ours; hopefully we will choose the path of allowing ourselves to become a channel of mercy and grace for others.

You have seen them — the ones with an overwhelming sense of entitlement. They want the fast track based on their ambition and connections. They will try every angle to get ahead except paying their dues. This sort of string-pulling might work in the secular world. In God’s kingdom things are very different, and Jesus immediately disabuses His two ambitious followers by showing them what advancement means in the realm of the spirit. They hope to bask and share in His glory and power, and they shall, but the path is paved with suffering and renunciation. Even after their glib assurances that they will be able to share in His cup of suffering Jesus refuses to grant their requests — even He does not have that sort of pull and He would not exercise it on their behalf if He did. This is God’s show and it is not subject to human manipulation. 

Jesus uses this as a teaching opportunity to insist that they are not to copy models of human power relationships found in their surrounding culture — a warning that the church has often not heeded. The new model is service, humility and the giving away of oneself for the good of others. That is the only sort of greatness there is and the only one that counts in God’s eyes.

This column is dedicated to Fr. Basil Carew of Halifax. God’s blessings!