Suffering and the Christian Life

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.
Jeremiah 20:7-9 – Romans 12:1-2 – Matthew 16:21-27.

Today’s readings are about the suffering that every Child of God will experience.

After conferring on Peter the authority of the Church, which is about the glorious part of the Christian life, Jesus began to tell His disciples why He had come into the world. He told them that He had come to take on all human suffering, to die to kill death, and then to be raised on the third day.

Peter found it difficult to accept that the mission of Jesus would end with the cross and crucifixion. He did not see why pain and suffering were necessary for discipleship and was anxious that the Lord avoids this course of action. He was outraged at the idea that such happenings should take place.

Like most of us, he failed to grasp the role of suffering in God’s plan. He thought that being part of the kingdom was a matter of power and success; that it precludes suffering. It was unacceptable to him and difficult to understand, especially after having just received from Jesus the authority of the Church. He was of the idea that Jesus is a Messiah of earthly splendour and glory. Peter had yet to learn that the standards of Christ were not those of prosperity and privilege, or of control of polity and economy. The outcome was then a reprimand from Jesus who cautioned him against adopting the standards of the world, which is contrary to the standards of God, hence Jesus used the name Satan, i.e. the Antichrist, the opposer of God. Jesus made this point clear when he added, “The way you think is not God’s way but man’s”.

The gospel ends with a challenge from Jesus to welcome hardship and to embrace pain and personal suffering, for to hold on to this life that is trivial, is to lose eternal life which is invaluable.

This is an appropriate time for us to reflect on our personal commitment to Christ, because it is all too easy to lose sight of our Christian calling, identity and mission. Temptations to seek comfort in material and transient things, rather than in God’s glorious rewards, will come. Let us follow the instructions of St Paul in the 2nd reading. He mentioned that we should not go with the flow of worldly attitudes, but to allow ourselves to be modelled by the new life, the life we have in Christ – the life of true discipleship, taking up our cross daily and moving in accordance with the will of Christ. Wherever Christ prompts us to go, we must go; whatever we do, we must follow His example; where He is present, we must be there; and as He has been glorified, we have the hope that we too shall be glorified.

Jeremiah, the servant and prophet of God lamented of his toil and tribulation for doing what God wanted of him, and was weary of being reproached, insulted and derided by the people for his pains. It would have been only human for him to want to quit and be free of all the trouble and hassle, humiliation and embarrassment he was experiencing as the result of his calling. Several times he admitted that he would have stopped because of the pressures exerted upon him, but then he felt the “fire burning in his heart and imprisoned in his bones” – that, is the heart of God inflaming his heart; and because of this grace of the love of God, he couldn’t quit.

In this world we have all experienced suffering, whether it comes to us in the form of sickness, unemployment, death in the family, problems within the home with our family members, cruelty and greed which affects our lives directly or indirectly, or in other forms. Down through the ages, the problem of pain has been wrestled with but not resolved. When things go wrong and affliction comes our way, we cry out. It’s a natural tendency to want to cut and run from trouble, to put the blinkers on and pretend that it’s not happening. Facing reality, however, and embracing the sufferings and pains we have to endure while living out our lives as Children of God, brings us the hope of the joy of salvation at the end of earthly life.

Lord, help us to embrace all the sufferings that come to us in this world. Keep our faith strong in You and our hope fixed on heavenly glory as we live out our daily lives. Amen. God bless you.