We often look at Jesus with an attitude of predestination - a cold, hard-hearted acceptance of His sufferings and pain. We think, at least in our subconscious, that somehow He had to do what He did and so we sluff it all off with a shrug of our shoulders, without a thought of the awesome wonder of a suffering God. We cannot comprehend a love that desires to feel our misery. The only love we understand is the kind that warms our heart and affects our emotions. We prefer that our love feels pity or sympathy, but not the actual pain of the one we love.
We may see someone with cancer, but we would never desire to actually feel every sharp, throbbing pain. We often say we would rather suffer than see those we love suffer, but this is for the most part, a mere expression of sympathy.
Our meditations on His sufferings are shallow and distant - expressions of pity if we have any devotion or an acceptance of an historical fact that He came, suffered and died. We laboriously try to remember this reality during Lent and quickly forget it at Easter. We joyfully set aside His sufferings and don our Easter clothes as if to shed some disagreeable event by starting anew. Yes, the joy of His resurrection should always be in our hearts and give us that hope that knows no sadness. But do we not lose the one element of Easter that assures our hope of a never ending source of joy? "See My Hands and My Feet," Jesus told the doubting Thomas. His risen, glorious body continues to carry wounds, but these wounds provide our greatest consolation, our deepest joy and our assuring hope. These wounds open to us the secrets of His Love and give us a confident trust in His mercy. We can no longer doubt His love for us - we can no longer chide Him for permitting injustice in our lives while He never felt this painful sting.
Before redemption we may well have asked Him, "How do You know what it means to suffer, Oh God? Did You ever feel hungry or thirsty? Have Your nights ever been full of fears and Your days long hours of painful endurance? Have You ever felt lonely or rejected? Has anyone treated You unjustly and have You ever cried? Has the powerful wind You created ever pierced Your bones and made You shiver with cold? Have you ever needed a friend and then, when he came along, watched him turn against You?"
His answer to all these questions would have been, "No." But now, we can no longer wonder, because His love has answered our unasked questions - has desired to feel what our nature feels - endure our weaknesses and limitations of our sinner condition - shouldered our yoke and shuddered from the cold wind.
"The birds have nests and the foxes dens," He told His disciples, "but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His Head." (Luke 9:58) The realization that the love of Jesus shared and continues to share in our sorrows and pain, gives us that joy "no man can take away." Our continual Easter joy is mysteriously woven and interwoven with the cross.
The Christian experiences and lives a paradox. He possesses joy in sorrow, fulfillment in exile, light in darkness, peace in turmoil, consolation in dryness, contentment in pain and hope in desolation. A dedicated Christian has the ability to take the present moment, look at it head on, recall the spirit of Jesus under similar circumstances and act accordingly. It is difficult, but He told us it would be, for the happiness He promised is beyond this life. We are given the opportunity to condition ourselves to live forever with Holiness Itself. Let us see how our daily lives and the life of Jesus parallel. Perhaps then it will be easier to change our lives accordingly.
In St. Matthew's Gospel we read that Jesus healed two demoniacs. These two men were possessed by demons, who begged Jesus to let them go into a herd of pigs rather than into hell - their eternal home and Jesus permitted them to go. The swineherdsmen were so shocked they ran into town to complain to the townspeople over the loss of their pigs. We see a strange reaction from the people - a reaction that baffles the mind and causes Jesus much pain. Scripture tells us that these two men were fierce, violent men who were a constant source of fear to all the people. The people's reaction to the healing should have been one of gratitude and love. However we read, "that whole town set out to meet Jesus and as soon as they saw Him they implored Him to leave the neighborhood." (Matt. 8:34) They preferred their pigs to Jesus. They preferred that everything remain as it was if changing it cost them something. They were afraid of seeing Divine Power at work. It meant giving up their selfish ways and they preferred that God leave them alone.
There are many occasions in the lifetime of a Christian when acts of love and sacrifice are not appreciated - when the aged are made to feel they are in the way and when loved ones make one feel unwanted. When these occasions arise, the soul should relate that feeling to the deep hurt in the Heart of Jesus as He was told to go away. He felt as we do - hurt and crushed - and He desires us to unite our pain to His and give it to the Father for the salvation of souls.
Prisoners too can relate to this incident in the life of Jesus in a special way. The two men who had been delivered from so many demons were ready to enter society once more - they paid dearly for their indulgence - they suffered from lack of dignity, respect and a total loss of hope - yet the joy they expected from the crowd was lacking. No one was impressed by their conversion. There were only complaints over the cost of that conversion. The two men delivered by Jesus were delivered of violent, hateful demons, but were not the townspeople under the influence of the quiet demons of greed, ambition, self-indulgence and selfishness? We cannot imagine the state of each soul who pleaded that God's Son leave their town. It is ironic that the two who were so visibly possessed were freed by the power of Jesus and accepted His love, while those who were respected citizens asked the God of Mercy to leave them alone.
Can it be that we are all in a kind of prison? Is it possible that those who are in prison today, publicly punished for their violence and crimes, have the opportunity to change and turn to Jesus - accept His Love and end up more free in heart and soul than those outside prison walls?
Repentance can make the rejected ones acceptable to God, while pride makes those accepted by the world and its standards, rejected by God. When we begin to build walls of prejudice, hatred, pride and self-indulgence around ourselves, we are more surely imprisoned than any prisoner behind concrete walls and iron bars. There are many imprisoned in this way for their entire lives - they never experience the freedom of the children of light - only the comfort of the false protection of the darkness. The pain of changing frightens them and so they prefer their selfishness and complacency to the Word of God or the healing power of His Cross.
One of the most frustrating sufferings Jesus bore must have been misunderstanding - a lack of comprehension on the part of those who loved Him and a lack of acceptance on the part of the authorities. A suffering Savior was not acceptable to either. A spiritual leader who spent time changing souls instead of governments had no place in their regime. He knew what they really needed to enter His Father's Kingdom, but they were interested in the kingdom of this world - they called it living a reality - He called it death. They thought of this life as the only one - He said it was only a place of exile while we waited for something greater. He told them the poor were blessed, and it was better to be virtuous than to gain the whole world, but to them worldly glory was too much to pass by for some invisible reality.
His Apostles were slow to understand the simplest parables and often they would ask Him for explanations after the crowds were gone. He tried so hard to bring the Mystery of the Father's Love down to the language of children, but even that was often beyond the reach of His disciples - the men destined to go and preach the Good News to everyone. He would often look at them with amazement and say, "Do you not understand either?" (Mk. 7:18) Even His miracles were misunderstood, His authority questioned and His relatives sought Him out as some madman. His discernment was questioned because He permitted a sinner to touch Him and His reputation held in suspicion because He ate with sinners. When He healed on the Sabbath, He was a lawbreaker and when He demanded love as the most important Commandment, He was labeled an innovator.
There are hardly any human beings who have not felt this pain of misunderstanding in their lives in some form or other. Our motives are rashly judged or our virtue is called hypocrisy. Our ideas are too bold or our caution called timidity. Children accuse parents of interference when loving correction warns of danger. We're tagged fanatics if Jesus is a part of our daily living, but when tragedy strikes, Job's comforters confront us with our lack of piety as God's vengeance strikes us for some hidden resentment that must be lurking in our hearts. When we're compassionate towards sinners we're accused of imprudence and when just anger makes us lash out we are called uncharitable. The list of the incongruities could be multiplied a hundredfold and the more we try to make them right, the more entangled we become. But we can always look at Jesus and know He understands. Like Him, we can do the Father's Will according to the light we have and be at peace. His sufferings formed part of our redemption - ours form part of our sanctification.
"It began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But He (Jesus) was in the stern, His head on a cushion, asleep." (Mark 4:37,38)
The all powerful God, out of whose Hands planets and galaxies tumbled, became a man and was tired! He had reached a point of physical exhaustion that neither rain, wind nor the shouts of fear-gripped men could overcome. He was dead tired - every muscle, every bone, every nerve had reached the end of its endurance and sleep alone would bring back that energy so necessary for the human body to function well.
We have all felt tired - tired from work and often tired of work. We all reach a time when we must stop and rest. It is at this time we can relate to Jesus in a very conscious way. He and we know what it means to be worn out. We can unite our fatigue with His and offer it to the Father as a holocaust of love and obedience. Our work, our mission and our state of life accomplished according to His holy Will, make common fatigue a channel of grace and power. It becomes more than the natural consequence of exertion, it becomes a sacrifice of praise - an act of penance - a personal holocaust of love.
"An hour later another man insisted saying, 'This fellow was certainly with Him. Why he is a Galilean.' 'My friend,' said Peter, 'I do not know what you are talking about...' At that instant...the cock crowed and the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter." (Luke 22:59-61) We have a tendency to get caught up in Peter's denial in this Scripture passage. But have we thought of Jesus? Jesus heard Peter call a perfect stranger "friend" and then go on to deny the only true friend he possessed - Jesus. The Heart of Jesus was surely crushed. Those who arrested Him hated Him and although His Heart was deeply hurt, imagine the searing throb of pain as He heard with His own ears the rejection of His Love by a friend.
Peter was the man He had loved much, given much and depended upon to carry His message of love to the world. Here He heard him deny he even knew the One he was to represent on earth. Can any of us plumb the depths of disappointment and pain in the soul of Jesus! Perhaps we can - perhaps all men can at one time or another. Parents are hurt over children who flippantly throw away their care, advice, love and protection. Children too, whose hearts cry out for love, often see parents running after the things that perish and having little concern for the souls God has entrusted to their care as parents. Friendship too can suffer a mortal blow when one party yields to suspicion, distrust, jealousy or misunderstanding. Yes, all of us can relate in some way to the deep hurt in the Heart of Jesus as He heard His friend and companion deny knowing Him. Let us unite our pain to His and give it to the Father for the salvation of souls, when we experience the rejection of a loved one.
"John came, neither eating or drinking and they say, 'He is possessed.' The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners." (Matt. 11:18,19) No matter what God did, those in authority were never satisfied. He sent His prophet John, a man of great penance, frugal, ascetical and demanding. His penitential spirit pricked their consciences so they condemned him. Jesus came as one who was kind, gentle, merciful and they called Him names to make Him look small and of no consequence.
John appealed to the ninety-nine and called them to repentance, while Jesus went after the stray sheep. Both, however, were unacceptable. Some men desire knowledge with which to speculate, but not Spirit-filled words that stir the heart and cause them to change.
No matter what Jesus did, someone found fault with it. When His anger raged at the money changers in the temple, they questioned His authority to take matters into His own hands. When His compassion reached out in mercy to the adulteress, they questioned His courage. No wonder He told His Apostles that the opinions of men meant nothing to Him. (Jn. 5:41) It is also true with us for there are times when our best actions and purest motives are held in question. There are times we bend over backward to please, but to no avail. When this happens we must look at Jesus and do as He did - He accomplished the Will of God in the present moment and regardless of public reaction, He went His way in peace. He had come to save men, not to conduct an opinion poll. It was only important to Him that He did what He saw the Father do and said what He heard the Father say. He was the perfect image of the Father and that Image turned some against Him and drew others to Him. The choice was theirs - their wills were free. He offered them love because He was Love Itself, but His peace was not dependant upon their acceptance. His love was deep enough to continue loving them and powerful enough to remain at peace when they preferred themselves to Him. His love enveloped everyone - it was they who left the radius of that love.
We see this in the rich young man. Scripture tells us he ran up to Jesus and "knelt before Him." He wanted to inherit eternal life and asked Jesus how to do it. Jesus told him to keep the commandments, but the young man found that rather easy. He had formed the habit of keeping the law. He wanted more - his soul somehow knew there was something better. Jesus "looked at him steadily and loved him," the passage continues, but then the blow came. The great challenge was given. "Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." (Mk. 10:17-22) Immediately, the enormity of the challenge struck the young man like a bolt of lightning. He had not expected that answer to his question - he was not ready for the sacrifice.
Jesus knew what the young man would have to give up but He also knew what glory and renown he would miss for all eternity by passing up the opportunity of following Him. The young man thought he possessed too much to give up - he did not realize he gave up more than he possessed by not following the call of Jesus. It is often so with us. We know what people are doing to their immortal souls when they insist on seeking the things that pass - when a dissolute life is the order of the day - when they seemingly cannot tear themselves away from a life of sin. Their excuse is that they cannot give up their weaknesses and yet they do not understand what they really are giving up. The paradox is in the sad reality that they cannot give up misery, but they are capable of giving up eternal joy!
How truly we can say that He understands our pains and heartaches - His pain was like mine - thank you, Jesus for loving us all so much!
(c) JOURNEY INTO SCRIPTURE 1976 - All Rights Reserved
Printed with the Ecclesiastical Approval of
Joseph G. Vath, D.D.
Bishop of Birmingham in Alabama
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