Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer - Reflections on the Word of God (April 30, 2017)
"Was it Not Necessary that the Christ Should Suffer?"
Originally posted in Facebook by Fr. Michael Cheong, FMVD
As we journey into the Easter season, it is helpful to remember that we are meant not only to celebrate the fact of the Resurrection of Christ, but especially to remember the things that Jesus did and said in his own lifetime and to re-read it all in the light of the Resurrection; and to re-interpret our own lives according to the Lord's Risen life after his suffering. This happens on this Third Sunday of Easter in the walk to Emmaus, where the two disciples of Christ were actually disappointed with the death of Jesus, and the Lord Himself comes up and walks beside them to listen to them and to help them understand the need and purpose for the cross to have a full life.
In fact, why does the Church still have the cross above the altars if we are meant to celebrate Easter? Because the cross is not something to be done away with once and for all. Jesus did not die on the cross only to save us from our sins, but to teach us the way to live. As someone once said, "if we know how to die, then will we know how to live." The cross remains a symbol of our faith and a model of life, in which we draw strength and wisdom each day to carry our crosses in life.
The cross is a sign of God's patience. It manifests God's benevolence for humankind and that infinite mercy even for his own perpetrators. "The Lord is kind and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love." (Psalm 145:8) He invites us to learn from His own patience as we meet daily situations and persons: heavy traffic, inconvenience, disappointment, unmet expectations, an irritating person or even a grudge against someone, etc.
As we continue this week on our reflection on the seven capital sins, we come to the sin of anger. Anger and patience are opposites. One cannot be angry and patient at the same time. Certainly, some tend to justify anger with the "holy anger" of Jesus when he cleared the temple of the money-changers and dove-sellers, but most often our own anger comes from pettiness and irritation, or even our prejudices and exacting unforgiveness.
Anger can also be a manifestation of pride, of feeling that one is better or more-deserving of mercy and kindness than the other, like the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in his attitude to his younger brother and to God. "Bear with one another; forgive each other if one of you has a complaint against another. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same." (Colossians 3:13) Forgiveness is first and foremost a choice, more than a feeling. If we base it on mere feeligns, it is highly unlikely we would ever forgive!
It is a choice and it is based on the humble recognition that we have gotten where we are in life because someone has shown kindness and compassion to us and that there are others who have not been so fortunate. It is an invitation to share some of the help, patience and love that we have received in our lifetime. In fact, forgiveness is even a spiritual path that brings peace, mental and spiritual health to the forgiver. Yet, authentic forgiveness is not to condone the wrongdoing of others, but the practice of true patience in creating time and space also for them to change and grow in unconditional love.
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." How angry is our world today. How much resentment and vengeful violence! In the cross, Jesus teaches us to forgive, a forgiveness based on the complete trust in God, in His mercy and justice. On the cross, we find God's proposal of true forgiveness and peace, a source of infinite patience that is required to heal angry hearts and bandage them with forgiving love.
As we continue this third week of Easter, let us look again at the cross, not as a punishment, but as a teaching. How is your heart? Is it in need of more patience? Let us turn once again to the cross, but in the perspective of the Resurrection. Contemplate the peace of Christ on the cross, in the knowledge that after his suffering will come not only his Resurrection, but that of our own.
Fr. Michael Cheong is a Singaporean missionary priest of the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity. His current assignment is in Rome, Italy.