March 13, 2016: The Fifth Sunday In Lent
Isaiah 43: 16 – 21/Psalm 126/Philippians 3: 4b – 14/John 12: 1 – 8
“Press on Toward Knowing Jesus”
Fr. Roberto M. Jorvina
This is the day that the Lord has made and we shall rejoice and be glad in it. We are glad to be with the brethren. Christianity is not about being alone, but being with people. Sometimes, the people around us are people we like, but it is not all the time. There are times when the people around us are the people we don’t like, but this is a time in order that what we were given, which is the love of God, is proven.
We are in the Fifth Sunday in Lent and there should be an expectation of something great is going to happen. Lent is about preparing us to the greatest gift that we can ever receive in our lives. It is to prepare us to appreciate this gift and to realize this gift is very costly and expensive. This gift came with a price of the very life of God in it. Today, many people live their lives as if the death and resurrection of Christ had never happened. Lent is supposed to make us realize what this gift is all about.
In the gospel, we come to this town, Bethany, which is a few miles from Jerusalem. We are about a week before the sacrifice of the Lord on the cross. Jesus understood that He had an impending sacrificial death to give. He knew it was the time and three years of ministry of ministry is about to be over. We find Him in a house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. In this scene, we find two characters apart from Jesus. The first character is Mary and the second character is Judas. The contrast of these two characters shows the love of God and the greed of man. The love of God is without cost, a love that is pure; not counting how much it is profuse. When God created the world, He did not count the cost of how much hydrogen or oxygen He will put in the sun. He did not compute how much brain He will put in each of our lives. He did not compute how much water, rain, or are on this earth there will be. If we will add the cost of the earth, it is expensive, but God’s love is so profuse and so abundant in our lives.
This is the message of our lives. The problem is that many times in our lives, we are overcome by the other character of life, which is the character of Judas. We count the cost. We begin to look at the practical things in the guise of helping others when in fact it is for our benefit. We see the contrast of the unlimited and unconditional love of God in the light of the greed of man.
We come to Lent in order that we can connect what we are talking about. Every Sunday, we come to Church and we hear a beautiful gospel proclaimed. We hear the homily and the Word and receive the sacrament, and yet there is a world out there that we are confronted with every day that seems to be detached. They cannot connect and understand the significance of Christians going to Church every Sundayin relation to what a vendor can profit in the market the next day. What is that to a person’s being a call center agent? To a student? To a worker? Lent makes us reflect on this because we feel that the Word of God is so ideal that we cannot reach it. We see all of these theologies and teachings that are there. Lent strips us of all of these in order to bring us back to the very essence of our lives, which is the love of God.
This love of God is demonstrated in many ways, and today, I would want to show us one particular aspect that we have not talked about so much. In fact, we cringe at this word because it is not a popular topic especially in Christianity. It is all about “suffering.” We have this notion and concept that when we are Christians, we are going to be exempt from all suffering. We have a life of denial of the suffering that is in front of us. We have a feeling that suffering is something that we have to avoid. This is why when we come to Lent, we don’t talk about suffering. Some people are very uncomfortable with alms-giving, with fasting, with intense prayer, which are the three main activities for Lent. Instead of alms-giving, we would like to focus on bonus receiving – blessings that come into our lives. Instead of fasting, we would like to focus on feasting on our favorite food thinking that after all, Jesus already paid the price so why do we have to suffer. Instead of prayer, we would like to focus on times of entertainment where we can just relax. One would say, “Prayer doesn’t seem to relax me. It makes me tense. It is work.”
Is this the gospel? Are we missing out on the benefits on the glory of Easter year after year because we have short circuited the process? We have skirted the issue. We avoid the issue because what we focus on is an immediate relief on our problems and difficulties that we face. When we are suffering, the immediate thought that comes to our mind is, “What is the sin that I committed?” Or “What did that person do that there is so much suffering in his life?
We always connect the suffering and pain that a person has to sin. Isn’t it that in John 9, when the people were looking at the blind man, the Jews asked Jesus, “Who sinned, Teacher? Is it he or his parents?” Jesus replied, “You are missing the point. This happened in order that God may get the glory.” We try to mask our lives. We don’t want to talk about agony, affliction, pain, sacrifice and fasting. We say, “That is finished. We don’t have to suffer again.” In Philippians 3:10, it says that we are to know Him in the power of His resurrection. It doesn’t stop here. It continues to say, “That we may know Him in the fellowship of His suffering.” The fellowship is the participation of our lives in His suffering.
I am not teaching on suffering per se. I am not talking about suffering that we should always look for or that suffering is equivalent to holiness. The very root of suffering is sin; of man’s failures; but yet, the beautiful thing about Christianity is that God takes even the errors of men and transforms it to something that will bring glory to Him and benefit mankind. The power of God transforms the very thing that we see.
We must hold on to a true and complete Biblical view on suffering. Suffering for Christ is a normal part of Christian life. Today is the Fifth Sunday in Lent and it is traditionally called Passion Sunday, which ushers in the sub-season of Lent called Passion Tide. It is where we not only think of, but participate in, what Jesus has gone through. The beauty of Christianity is not just in the glory that is supposed to be revealed to us, but it is in the fellowship of His suffering. It is at times where we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. Today, we are immersed in a world of convenience. We are immersed in a world where we want to skip doing the hard work. We are immersed in a culture, in a society, where we don’t want to sweat or to encounter difficulty. We want an instant relief to our problems.
Look into the lives of the apostles of Jesus Christ and their suffering. Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia and was killed by a sword. Mark died in Alexandria in Egypt and was dragged to death by horses. Luke was hanged in Greece. John, before he died at an old age, was dipped in a basin of boiling oil. Peter was crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross. James the Just was thrown down over a hundred feet from the southeast pinnacle of the Temple when he refused to deny the faith. James the Greater, the son of Zebedee, was beheaded in Jerusalem. Bartholomew, a missionary to Asia, was believed to be flayed alive and whipped to death. Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross. Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India. Jude, the brother of Jesus, was killed with arrows. Matthias was stoned and then beheaded. Philip was crucified. Paul was tortured and beheaded.
The apostles did not live an easy life. Why was Christianity placed in a foundation where the famous saints that we know who gave their lives for Christianity all died with suffering? No one died of a heart attack or diabetes, but all with suffering. In 1Peter4:12-13 says, “And now, dear friends of mine. I beg you not to be unduly alarmed at the fiery ordeals which come to test your faith, as though this were some abnormal experience. You should be glad, because it means that you are called to share Christ’s sufferings.” Many couples today don’t like many children because they don’t like to suffer waking up early in the morning to feed. They don’t like to suffer hard work so that they can bring their children to school. They don’t want to suffer because they always want to have a nice time thinking that Christianity is enjoying life after all Christ paid the price for our sins.
This is not the whole gospel. Yes, He wants us healed and to have peace. Yes, He wants us to have prosperity, but it is in the midst, within the context of the sufferings that He has called us to have. The myth of suffering today is that no one should suffer. In fact, parents would want to shield their children from having a little pain. They want their children to always be comfortable. This is the myth that we have today that suffering is related to something that we did wrong. Among the apostles and saints, who were criminals or who led a life that was wrong? Are all the people in Africa bad because they are suffering? Are the people in Iraq who had been victims of ISIS sinners? Are the helpless victims all committing sin?
This is not what suffering is only about. Suffering can mean something else. The early Christian martyrs, all had this attitude because they saw, in this present world, that their priority is not so much their agenda in life and to make their lives comfortable. It is not about their ambition or dream to finish a course, to finish college, to have a house and lot or to retire and relax in peace. Their ambition was to make sure that the eternal purposes of Jesus Christ were made sure. It took them to respond to the call and be sent out to the world.
I read a testimony of a woman named Rose, who is living today. Both of her legs were amputated from the lower hip down. Her mother just passed away and her father is suffering from Alzheimers and Rose had to take him in because her brother is a drug addict She had to go through the daily chores for her family like cooking the meals and the laundry. People are asking her, “How can you take that all?” She replied, “Only by the grace of God.” Her agenda is not to make herself comfortable, but to make sure that she is a blessing to others and that her family will benefit from the salvation that Christ paid for.
Suffering for Christ is a great honor and a great gift from God for many of the martyrs. God is working something good in us. For them, suffering is an opportunity for two reasons: one, to grow in their faith and love of God. Two, it is an opportunity to glorify God and honor Him. Again, this is not suffering because we did something wrong or we have a life that we planted evil. This suffering is for us, normal Christians, who are walking in our everyday lives doing our thing and suddenly would meet a tragedy in life. This is about us who are journeying this way of Lent who had to give up something in order that we can minister to someone. This is about us who have to fast in order that we can just save up and touch another person’s life. This is about us busy with our work and then a beggar comes forth asking for alms and prodded by the Holy Spirit, we stop and take time to speak and minister to them instead of just dishing out money for them. Lent is for us to see the value and importance of Christ’s suffering and our participation in that suffering, in that sacrifice so that others may benefit from it.
In John 16:33, in the Amplified Version, Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.] Jesus was saying this not only to His disciples but also to us. We will have tribulation, distress and suffering, but we must be of good cheer and be filled with joy because Christ has overcome the world. This is the good news. It is not the suffering. It is the proving that what we have, the love of God, which was shed in our hearts is real. It proves to us, to the world, that there is love despite of the things happening all around us.
1Peter 2:21, in the Contemporary English Version, says, “After all, God chose you to suffer as you follow in the footsteps of Christ, who set an example by suffering for you.” God chose each of us in order to suffer. It is not good news, isn’t it? We don’t want to hear this. Just to wake up in the morning is such a difficult thing for us to do. We would point fingers on who should wash the dishes that our family members used. We would blame our neighbors for the trash scattered in front of our house instead of just cleaning it up. We would avoid a person that we owe money from. God called us to suffer, but one might say, “Father, I don’t like to hear that. Christ has already suffered. I should on Facebook daily. For God so loved the world that He gave Facebook to us that whosoever goes through it will have eternal life.” This is the good news today for many people because they say that Facebook is very relaxing.
We must all remember that we are all called to suffer, but to suffer well.It is not suffering for the sake of suffering, but suffering to suffer well. In suffering well, we must realize two points: one, life is unfair. Jacob suffered for seven years for Rachel, but when he thought he was doing it for Rachel, he got Leah. Was this fair? Jacob had to work for another seven year to get Rachel. Was this fair? Joseph was thrown into slavery by his brothers. Was this fair? He was falsely accused of abusing Potiphar’s wife. Was this fair? He was thrown into the dungeon and a baker and a butler were with him who promised to help him out, but they forgot him. Was this fair? There was no fairness here. Rose, in her testimony, was a very good woman who lived practically a life of peace, but she lost two of her legs. Was this fair?
We must realize life is not fair, but God is Sovereign. God is in-charge. Beyond suffering, there is God. Atheists think that suffering is pointless and of no value because they only see suffering per se, but beyond all of the suffering that a person can experience, there is God who has a divine purpose for all so we should not lose hope. The second point of suffering well is that life is tough. Life is hard and there is no easy way to success, no shortcut, but we must remember that though life is tough, God is good. No one is saying that life is easy, but God is good. It never changes. His goodness is not affected with whatever situation we are facing.
In the gospel, Mary poured the ointment and she gave her all and God has profusely blessed us with so much. Jesus was being prepared for His burial, six days before His suffering, and the gospel today is a reminder for us that as we go through life, as we go through the problems, don’t be alarmed. Keep an attitude of faith. Continue to love. Share the peace of God. Don’t panic. Don’t let life overwhelm us. Don’t be resentful. Don’t blame others for our situations. This is part of our lives that God is bringing us so that we can see that He is good and true in our lives. He isn’t lacking in giving us all that we need in life. This is the reason we have life! Let us not think that it is only when we have money that we are happy in our lives. We must continue to let the love of God flow because this is what suffering points to. Suffering points to a love of God. We have gone through the sacrifices. We may not enjoy it, and we may not be shouting fun, but life is not just about fun, but it is about joy.
Hebrew 10 says to remember the former days, after being enlightened, that all of you endured a great conflict of suffering and you joyfully accepted the seizure of possession. Do you remember when you were born-again in Christ, when you lost all your possessions but you joyfully accepted this? You did not change or waver in your faith. You would go to Church every Sunday regularly giving thanks and praise to God and living a good life. This is suffering well. Suffering well is not about eliminating suffering, but all about maintaining the attitude of Christ. Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, then sat down at the right hand of God.
This is suffering well. This is knowing Jesus, not just in the power of His resurrection, but in the fellowship of His suffering. Life is unfair, but God is Sovereign. Life is hard, but God is good. May we understand what suffering is as we enter this Season of Passion Tide, of Lent. As we leave this place, there is probably a brother, a sister or someone at home waiting for you. Maybe, you haven’t talked to them for a long time because of pride that is keeping you from doing so. Maybe, there is someone in need who has asked if you could spare a few pesos for them to be able to eat or pay their bills. Maybe, we need to suffer in order that we can see the greatness of God.
This is the true good news of life. It is not about “me and making myself” comfortable. It is about achieving what God desires because what He desires is what He wants us to have – the goodness of life in all that we do.