10 Apr 2016
3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C
When you look at all the reasons why people leave the Church, or all the reasons why people stop believing in God, chances are you’ll never hear them say, “I left because I was too comfortable.” You’ll probably never hear them say, “I left because there weren’t enough opportunities to suffer.”
Christianity today—at least in the popular mindset—is supposed to be all about happiness and feeling good. With the Risen Christ in our life, things are supposed to be great! Troubles are supposed to fly away, and struggles will be no more! And to that we’d say, “Well, yea . . . in heaven. But not right now.”
A main thread that runs throughout Scripture—and especially today’s readings—is the idea of “being found worthy to suffer” for the love of God. We hold up Jesus as the Son of God, but we also praise him as “the Lamb who was worthy to suffer;” who was worthy to be slain. He knew very well that he would be crucified. And he knew his Apostles and disciples would suffer as well for the sake of Christian living. And he told them as such.
We heard that in the Gospel, when Jesus says to Peter, “Someone else will tie you and take you where you don’t want to go.” That’s part of the price of actually following Jesus. And Peter and the rest of the Apostles found that out soon enough.
So, wherever the popular idea of a “feel-good” Christianity came from, it didn’t come from Christ. Now, obviously, there is Easter happiness and Easter joy—most definitely. But that kind of joy is the effect of having been “found worthy to suffer” for the love of God and all that is good. After Peter and the Apostles were flogged by the Sanhedrin and given a stern warning, they went away singing and with exuberance. They had just been whipped and yelled at . . . and that were ecstatic about it! Now that’s Easter joy.
Sometimes when people come to confession, they’re really nervous. They’re nervous, but they know it’s the right thing to do come to confession. And that nervousness can certainly feel like suffering. But, you know, they go right through that suffering, they confess their sins, and then it’s like when the sun comes out after a thunderstorm . . . it’s just wonderful! There’s Easter joy in their hearts . . . because they were “found worthy to suffer” the nervousness of doing the right thing. And they’re not only joyful, but they feel empowered by the Spirit to keep on living and growing . . . for love of God.
Maybe a reason why people leave the Church, or stop believing in the goodness of God, is that they haven’t suffered enough. Maybe they haven’t experienced the joy of doing the right thing, even when it hurts. Maybe they don’t know the Easter happiness that comes with being cast out because you dare to be true to Christ, even when friends don’t want you to.
It’s a paradoxical thing, really. We want to be joyful of heart; we want to be fulfilled. People want Christianity to be “feel-good.” And yet, the path to really feeling good is through suffering. After all, Christ didn’t save us in the Resurrection . . . he saved us on the Cross. He saved us by “being worthy to be slain” for love of God. That’s how Peter and the Apostles continued the saving work of Christ—by proclaiming “Christ crucified” both in words and in the way they lived. And that’s how the Gospel message grows today: not in superficial joy, but in deep joy that comes with having been “found worthy to suffer” for the love of God.
Jesus asks each of us: “Do you love me?” And if our answer is “yes,” he says, “Then come and join me in my suffering, so that you can share . . . in my Easter joy.”