Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)
(Click here for readings)
By Benedict Augustine
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man
will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes,
and they will condemn him to death
and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him,
spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death,
but after three days he will rise.”
For a messiah Who hoped to inspire faith in his disciples and redeem the world, Jesus seems to falter on his sales pitch. He informs His disciples of his coming torture, death, and humiliation which He will suffer at the promptings of His Own chosen people. Sure, the resurrection awaits Him, but does He really have to suffer first? On that point, should anyone really have to suffer?
The disciples seem to gloss over this nasty fate and inquire about the glory that follows. Although John and James are criticized for trying to angle their way into Jesus’ divine inner-circle, they likely voice what most of the apostles must be thinking: if torture and death await the messiah as well as His disciples, the ones who suffer most must at least have some place of privilege in the next life. Jesus cannot even promise this; He can only assure them that they will suffer as He will and that they should really stop thinking about what they stand to gain in following Him. Here they stood ready, with cash in hand, to buy His product, and He essentially tells them that He will take their money but might not give them the product they want, if He gives them a product at all.
Jesus’ utter failure to sell His gospel should caution other would-be evangelizers from trying the same. Salesmanship works with merchandise, but it does not work with truth. One can sell a car and appeal to the buyer’s self-interest, but he cannot do the same with a gospel that directly opposes self-interest. One can update the packaging or change the marketing of a certain piece of technology, but he cannot do this with a religion that stands in strict contradiction with facades and superficial status symbols. True Christianity defies the salesmanship tactics: it is free; it is spiritual; and it usually makes life more difficult.
Nevertheless, many Catholics will try to sell their friends on the Church by highlighting the faith’s beneficial effects on mental health and emotional stability. In so many words, they claim that Church will make a person happier in all aspects of life: in marriage, in parenthood, in friendships, and with personal habits. In a way, faith assumes the quality of a mere self-help program—something far more pedestrian than the glory that Jesus and His disciples discuss.
While the Church does indeed have volumes to offer in the way of relationships and self-improvement, such practical wisdom only exists because of something much larger: Jesus’s suffering and resurrection. Faith in the gospel will not so much help a person become happy as it will help a person suffer and handle sadness. The Catholic experiences pleasure after mortifying himself and understanding privation and pain. He can only experience wisdom after admitting to so much foolishness. He can only gain the love of another when he loses himself. He becomes strong and self-sufficient when he confesses his inadequacy and begs for God’s help. The drivers of consumption, ego and appetite, find no place in this paradoxical spiritual landscape.
Salvation and endless joy do await the disciples, but they must not work for it like some kind of payment for services rendered. They must learn what salvation truly is and that they can never really earn it, but only accept it as a precious gift from God. This lesson can only come through suffering. Suffering does not earn a place in the kingdom of heaven; it instead emboldens the disciple to pursue heaven all the more through a greater devotion to Jesus. A quote from St. Bernard of Clairveiux captures this reality well: “Hunger is the best seasoning.” Jesus will feed all men from His own Being, but He must make them hungry first.