20th Sunday Year C
Theme of the week: A reflection on suffering.
Why must we suffer? Is there any meaning to suffering? The readings for the next two weeks answer some of these questions.
The year was 587 BC and the Babylonians had invaded Jerusalem. The prophet Jeremiah conveyed the will of God to the people by prophesising defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. This has angered the king’s officials. With a king too weak to object, officials threw Jeremiah in a well to drown him in the mud. Jeremiah suffered for his faith and was rescued through the intervention of Ebed-melech, a righteous official of the king. Hence, as in Jeremiah’s case, suffering can be a result of our pursuit of a noble cause.
The First Reading poses this challenge to us: If I know that I will face certain death, will I still boldly proclaim the will of God? If I know others will hurl insults at me as a result, will I still boldly proclaim the teachings of God?
The Second Reading likens life to a race where one has to suffer before finally reaching the final goal – the attainment of eternal glory. It reminds us that the suffering we endure in nothing compares to what Jesus underwent. For our sake, Jesus “endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (verse 2). It is true that for most of us, our sufferings will never get to the point where we lose our lives (verse 4). Nevertheless, it is possible (in fact, likely) that we will be asked to carry the crosses that accompany our faith, in other words, to suffer for our faith. In suffering for our faith, we emulate our Lord Jesus Christ and are unified with Him on His cross. Hence, suffering can be a result of our pursuit of Christ.
The Second Reading poses another challenge to us: Jesus invites me to take up my crosses and follow him (Mt 16:24). Am I prepared to do that, or do I shy away? Do I walk with Christ every steps of the way, or do I behave like a “fair-weather Christian”, walking with Christ only when it does not exact too great a cost on my part?
Many Christian teachings are counter-cultural, including the teaching that suffering having a purpose; and that suffering leading to glory. By His teaching, Jesus inevitably becomes a cause of division within the society, among friends and within the family. In this week’s Gospel passage, Jesus asks us to be prepared to face such a dilemma, where we will be asked to stand on God’s side, possibly against people whom we love. Staying steadfast to God under such circumstances is perhaps one of the hardest crosses that we have to take up.
Hence, the final challenge to us this week is: If I am forced to choose between Christ and my loved ones, who will I choose?