“Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:8-9)
One of the greatest benefits of Lent is that it gives us the opportunity to take a closer look at the price that Jesus Christ had to pay for our salvation and by so doing helps us to understand our own lives better. In summary, the season of lent provides answers to some of life’s toughest questions, one of which is: “Why do I have to suffer?”
If God is good and He is my father and He loves me so much, why then does He allow even the tiniest amount of suffering in my life? Can anything good come out of suffering? Before we answer these questions, let us first answer some other questions. Was Jesus the Son of God? Yes. Was Jesus loved by God? Yes. Did Jesus and God at any point ever quarrel? Of course, NO. So why did Jesus suffer?
Now, get the point. The only reason why suffering should exist in our lives at all is the same reason why it was absolutely necessary for Jesus to suffer. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus said: “WHEN I AM LIFTED UP FROM THE EARTH, I WILL DRAW ALL MEN TO MYSELF.” (John 12:32). This statement of Jesus provides the answer. The success of Jesus in saving the world was not a product of his miracles or his preaching but a product of his suffering (death).
It was the lifting up of Jesus on the cross, the painful, shameful and agonizing crucifixion that brought us all to him. Christianity as a whole owes its existence to the cross. This is why the Cross is at the centre of our church, why we carry the cross on our necks everywhere and why the cross itself is a symbol of our Christian faith. So when you want to understand suffering in your life, it will do a lot of good to just sit down and look again at the cross.
The cross represents shame, it represents pain, it represents all the ugly circumstances that we have to go through in life, it represents unanswered prayers. Recall how Jesus prayed: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39). The cross represents events in our life that we never wish for ourselves. The cross represents the death of the grain of wheat that is planted so as to yield much fruit. The cross teaches us that all suffering in our lives is a blessing in disguise.
In moments of suffering, let us remember that God still loves us deeply. Suffering is not a sign of God’s rejection or weakness, rather it is a necessary path we must follow in other to experience the good things God has prepared for us. There is a story of two men who were given a cross to carry. Along the line one of them took a cutlass to reduce the size of his cross but upon reaching the finish line, the one who cut his cross could not cross over because his cross was too short to act as a bridge while the other one went through successfully because his cross was long enough.
Jesus says: “He who loves his life loses it (meaning, he who seeks comfort, he who reduces his cross by going against God’s commands will never attain eternal life) but he who hates his life in this world will keep it to eternal life.” (John 12:25). There is a sense in which we must hate our life by embracing suffering in other to attain true life in heaven. For instance, a student has to “hate his life” by staying up late to study in other to pass examination. A business man has to “hate his life” by restraining himself from eating up his profits so as to reinvest them. A workman must “hate his life” by stretching his muscles so as to finish his task on time to get paid. In the same way, it follows that a Christian must “hate his life” by restraining from sinful pleasures so as to treat the body as temple of the Holy Spirit.
No one ever attained glory without a story. The best things in life are kept at the other end of our suffering. Suffering is a great teacher. We learn more about life in tears than in joy. As the book of Hebrews says in today’s second reading, “suffering taught Jesus how to be obedient.” Suffering made Jesus perfect and a source of perfection for all men.
Suffering basically humbles us. Suffering teaches us that we are not masters of the events in our lives; that it is not everything we want that comes to us; and that we must accept the things we don’t want. Suffering teaches us to surrender, that is, to be obedient. By bringing us pain we do not wish for ourselves, suffering teaches us that God’s will is more important than my own will.
Embrace suffering. Never fall into the temptation of taking the easy path. In life, there are no short-cuts. Can you imagine being operated upon in a life or death situation by a doctor who cheated his way through school? Just as there is always a price to pay, there is a prize (reward) that comes with every suffering we face in life.
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, you suffered to be my redeemer, help me to suffer rightly that I may be a co-redeemer of my fellow brothers and sisters. Amen
(Fifth Sunday of Lent. Year B. Bible Study: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrew 5:7-9 and John 12:20-33).