Jesus: You Will Suffer
Earthquakes. Famines. Epidemic illnesses. National and cultural conflicts. Wars. Violence. Religious persecution. No, these are not the recent headlines from google news (though they most certainly could be). Rather, these are what Jesus identifies as the trials and tribulations that his followers would suffer. This is very distinct from the prosperity or, what some call the “health and wealth” Gospel embraced and preached by prominent “evangelists” and even celebrities. Some hold to the erroneous notion that if we follow Jesus, and we are in his will, that we will have money, we will have health and that everything will always go our way. While this kind of message is appealing for obvious reasons, it’s not quite the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus has indeed come to set us free from suffering, sin, and even death itself. But this life on earth is often filled with suffering, even in the holiest of people. As Our Lady told St Bernadette to whom she appeared at Lourdes: “I cannot promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.” This message is consistent with Our Lord Jesus who told us: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) And Jesus again in this Sunday’s gospel passage tells us that we, his Church will suffer tribulations and even persecutions. Christ does not take away our sufferings, he does even more, he redeems them. “Not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” (Luke 21:19)
Jesus is making the promise that while the troubles of this world will ultimately destroy the world, his Church will stand forever. This is a bold claim to make in a time when there has been much scandal, polarization, and corruption in the Church herself. As a verse in the 19th Century Hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” observes:
Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed
By schisms rent asunder
By heresies distressed
Yet saints their watch are keeping
Their cry goes up how long
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song
Being confronted with the humanity of the Church will always give us a cause for prayer, just as the tribulations of the world. However, we have cause to rejoice, because the Church will always proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ, which alone makes us free, even when, and perhaps even especially, when the men of the Church fail to preach and live that truth.
Jesus Christ does protect his elect, his Church in that in the midst of suffering in the condition of a corrupt world, he gives us an out, an entry into eternity for him. The admission into this kingdom is not free, but it was paid for us by the ultimate act of Mercy, the Cross of Jesus which stands firm and strong in a world torn by chaos and tribulation.