Suffering With Christ

 

April 14, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier   Monday of Holy Week

Reading (Isaiah 42:1-7)  Gospel (St. John 12:1-11)

 

In the readings of this Holy Week, we will have the readings of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah 42 today, 49 tomorrow, 50 on Wednesday, and then on Friday 52 and 53, the four Suffering Servant Songs. These are four points of prophecy regarding the Messiah and the suffering that He would have to undergo. At the same time, it is not merely the suffering that He would undergo, but Isaiah also makes very clear the good that God is going to bring out of that suffering, the various points about how He is going to do this.

 

And so, the Lord tells us right from the beginning that this is the Servant Whom He upholds, His chosen One with Whom He is pleased. Again, it puts our suffering into context because if we get the idea that the only reason we suffer is because we did something wrong or God is angry with us, this should make very clear that is not the case. This is God’s chosen One with Whom He is pleased – not with Whom He is angry. And we are told that He has the Lord’s Spirit within Him and that He is going to bring forth justice to the nations. The way that this is going to happen is through His suffering.

 

It is not the way one would expect that justice is going to be brought to the nations. We think, in our human terms, of justice being brought by somebody coming in and laying down the law, finally bringing about what is proper and putting the people who are outlaws into jail or cleaning it up or whatever it is that they are going to do. But in this case, it is because Our Lord took our sufferings to Himself, and as a matter of justice He paid the price for our sins. This was more pleasing to God than anything else that has ever been done in history.

 

Now we too have that opportunity to be able to suffer with Him. We too, because we are members of Christ through Baptism, have an opportunity to offer our sufferings for the salvation of others. Our suffering, as we know, becomes the suffering of Christ; it is the Lord who is suffering in us and through us. And our suffering, then, united to the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ, is offered to the Father so that the Suffering Servant continues, the One with Whom He is well pleased, His chosen One continues to live and to work in and through each one of us. What we need to be able to understand in this is that God’s love, His mercy, and His justice are at work within us as long as His Spirit is at work within us. It was the Spirit of God, obviously, Who animated Christ and it is the Spirit of God Who animates each one of us when we are in the state of grace. It is the Holy Spirit Who raises us up to that divine level of acting and being. So as long as we are uniting our suffering with the suffering of Christ then we are acting in a divine manner and we are very pleasing to God in that way.

 

The justice of God then continues to be brought to the nations. The word “nations” in another translation would be called Gentiles, and in the extended sense for us now it is not just those nations that are not Israel, but it is those people who are not part of the New Israel, those who are pagans and those who have fallen away from their faith. Our suffering can be united with Christ to bring about their salvation. These are mind-boggling things when we stop to think about it, that our suffering is actually redemptive, that our suffering can bring about the salvation of others, that our suffering is the very suffering of Jesus Christ in the world today. That is the dignity God has given to each one of us.

 

We are called, then, to share in His Passion and to share in the work of salvation. Not only to accept within ourselves the salvation which He offers and the redemption which He offers on the Cross, but to actually share in that work. When we see it that way, we begin to understand the importance of the suffering and that this is God’s justice being brought to the nations if we are willing to participate in it – not just as passive observers, not just simply as recipients, but as active participants in the very suffering and work of Jesus Christ. That is our Christian dignity. We, then, share in the dignity of Jesus Christ, the Servant with Whom God is well pleased – the servants in whom He has placed His Spirit, the servants whom He Himself has chosen for this work of redemption.

 

*  This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.