Joined to the Sufferings of Jesus
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 18, 2015
In last week’s Gospel, we heard the story of a pious, faithful, and wealthy young man whom Jesus challenged in a way that, presumably, was beyond his willingness to comply. Spiritually, the young man was on such solid ground that the only thing “lacking” to ensure him a place in heaven was that he sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor, and then follow Jesus. He walked away. Sure, he was sad…but still…he walked away. The call for unconditional trust and commitment was too much for him to accept. And yet, all that was asked of him was to give up material goods.
A few weeks back, in a college classroom in Oregon, people were asked to give up far more. A “shooter” purportedly asked his college classmates: “Are you a Christian?” Those who said “yes” were shot. They did not “walk away” nor did they shy away from the face of certain death. Nine people died what was essentially a martyr’s death. Without any information about how they had led their lives up to that fateful moment, and on the basis of just one word…YES!… these people gave “supreme witness to the truth of faith…even unto death.” (2473 Catechism of the Catholic Church) Our tradition tells us that that one single word…YES…assured them a place in the Kingdom.
The same unconditional trust and commitment to the saving power of Jesus Christ is being asked of countless people each day as ISIS breaks into the homes and the lives of those disciples who remain in the war-torn areas of the Middle East. We have no way of knowing how many martyrs are dying there on a daily basis. Of course, not all have the strength of faith and the unconditional commitment to Christ. Some forsake their religion in order to save their earthly life…and are allowed by the terrorists to “walk away”…walk away from Christ!
All three Readings this weekend speak to the value of suffering. Even Jesus did not shy away from the ultimate sacrifice. The Father did not offer, and the Son did not seek an easy way out of the debt owed for the first bad choice…the first time human beings turned their back on God and walked away. Authentic and sincere discipleship requires that we follow the example of the Master and join our sufferings to His. In that way, we somehow make a contribution to Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice.
Thankfully, few are required to face a gunman’s fury or the bone-chilling shouts of terrorists at the door. Likewise, few can totally escape pain and suffering. Today’s Readings do not explain it or help us to escape it…but serve to reassure us that when it does strike, suffering is a form of sacrifice that has meaning and purpose when joined to the sufferings of Jesus.