A reflection on the Readings of Sunday, April 30, 2023 — The Fourth Sunday of Easter. Click here for the audio version.
There are a few things that are common to all of humanity. We all feel hunger, for example. We are all sinners. We all long for love and acceptance. There is another thing that unites us all – suffering. There is no human being who can escape suffering. Money, riches, wealth, fame, power, education, status, or influence – nothing helps us escape suffering. Particularly, we immigrants have our unique share of suffering.
I am talking today about suffering because in today’s second reading, St. Peter has a unique take on suffering. To some of us it may even sound outrageous that Peter reflects on suffering in a positive way. In my three points today, I would like to reflect on Peter’s teaching on suffering and find meaning for the suffering in our own lives.
Suffering: A Painful Privilege
Peter refers to suffering as ‘a calling’. To many people this may sound shocking and even scandalizing. Peter says, “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Pet 2:20b).
Why does Peter refer to suffering as a calling? Peter was not condoning suffering by referring to it as ‘a call’. He was not asking us to intentionally cause or invite suffering. For that matter, God does not wish anybody to suffer. In fact, Christ suffered to put an end to suffering and death. The reason Peter refers to suffering as a calling is because of the historical context of persecution. He was trying to attach a meaning to the innocent suffering of the persecuted Church. By unifying their innocent suffering with the suffering of Jesus, Peter was giving a Christian meaning to their suffering. Thus, he says, “Christ also suffered for you leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” In other words, suffering is a way to follow Christ. Suffering is a calling because suffering unifies us with Christ. As hard as it may be to imagine, suffering is a ‘painful privilege.’
Suffering is Salvific
The second reason why suffering is a calling is because, in the Christian context, suffering is salvific. Life and salvation came to us through the suffering of Jesus. Once again, Peter says in today’s second reading, “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24). Salvation and eternal life came to us through the life, suffering, and death of Jesus.
In other words, God transformed suffering into a life-giving opportunity. Similarly, when we endure suffering, is it possible that we make our own suffering a life-giving opportunity? For example, when we are in pain, perhaps we can intercede for those who are in a similar situation. I believe that the prayer of those who suffer has a very special place in heaven. This is only one example of not only understanding suffering as a call but also to make our suffering a life-giving opportunity for others.
Suffering for Doing what is Good
Peter refers to yet another kind of suffering – “suffering for doing what is good.” As Peter says, “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good,
this is a grace before God” (1 Pet 2:20). Once again, our example and model is Jesus Christ. Jesus committed no sin and there was no deceit on his lips (1 Pet 2:22). Rather, he suffered for the sake of good – to redeem humanity from destruction.
Today, Peter invites us to not be afraid of doing good because of the suffering it may cause. Parents, for example, suffer for the sake of their children. They make immense sacrifices for the family. This is grace before God. Forgiving others when they have wronged us another example of suffering for the sake of doing good. And this too is grace before God. Helpings others without expecting anything in return is a form of suffering for the sake of doing good. When we do good to those to harm us, pray for those who persecute us, bless those who curse us, we suffer for the sake of doing good. And this too is grace before God. Like Jesus, may we never be afraid of suffering for the sake of doing good.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Even in our most painful moments we are not alone. He who suffered it all for our sake, is with us in our suffering. Let us bring our pain and suffering to the altar and surrender them into the hands of our eternal shepherd. May he give us the grace to endure our own suffering and to give life to others who are suffering.
Image: By El Greco – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See the Image and Data Resources Open Access Policy, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57395542
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Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.