Participation in Suffering and Death


Participation in Suffering and Death

Yuhanon Mor Meletius

 

It was one of the most painful and troubled moments in the life of Jesus. He knew he was to be killed the next day. He also knew that he had to stand before at-least four times in three courts before noon the next day followed by terrible torture and a long and humiliating journey with the heavy cross to the slaughter ground.  He did two things to prepare himself for that.  First he called all of his disciples for a meal with him. That was of course the anticipatory Passover meal. All his disciples attended, but one walked out in the middle.  It was heart breaking and worst things were yet to happen.  He was not sure whether others understood the meaning of that meal and all that happened at the table.  Secondly Jesus called three of his chosen ones and took them to a garden that they will pray with him and will support him in his most difficult time. That was supposed to be a time with his Father and with his friends. He thought this will strengthen him and prepare him for the terrible things to happen in his life. 

 

Jesus left his disciples at a distance and he went to spend some time with his Father. He wanted his disciples to pray for him.  He wished that the suffering may go away. But his Father told him, it shall not. So he agreed and said "Not as I will, but as you will". He came back to his friends and found them sleeping. This was so disappointing, painful and frustrating for him. He had to ask them "Could you men not keep watch with me at least for one hour?" (Matt. 26:40).  Peter had earlier assured him that he would be with him even if it would cost his life (Matt. 26:35). James and John had assured him that they are ready to take the baptism and the cup that Jesus would take (Matt. 20:22).  So he was rest assured these three would be the best ones to keep watch and pray with him. But they did not keep their word. It indeed was the most heart breaking experience. 

 

Jesus had called them ‘to be with him’ and to participate in all that he would do for the salvation of his creation (Mark 3:`4). Any call from God to be with Him is to participate in what He does to save the creation. God called Moses and sent him to Egypt to work out His plan of liberating the people from bondage. God had promised Moses that He would be with him (Ex. 3:12). It also means that Moses had to be with God and work out God’s plan. Moses had to go through all the trouble of standing before the tyrant Pharaoh, taking the most rebellious crowd and leading them through the hostile terrain. God Himself too traveled with them.  This was the suffering God took on Himself for the sake of His people and Moses had to participate in it with God. Same was the purpose for which the disciples were called. This can be achieved only through participation in the suffering death and resurrection of Jesus. What people usually are happy to be part of is the resurrection. But there will not be any resurrection without suffering and death (John 12:24). Any one who is reluctant to have part in the suffering will not have part in the Kingdom. This is what one of the thieves on the cross show to us.  But the three chosen disciples did not quite understand this.

 

We need to look in to our own lives, in a meditative mood, to see how our participation with others is.  Husbands and wives are called to share lives together.  Sharing of moments of sorrow and joy, suffering and salvation, of times misfortune and fortune are part of life together. Same is the case with parents and children. Children should share the pain of the parents in making a better life in the family.   The parents should share the burden of children they bear in growing up as well.  Many a time either we fail to share or put our burden on others. The disciples failed to share the time of suffering with Jesus. Remember that all the three at some point expressed their desire to share the glory. Peter asked Jesus what he and would get having left everything and followed him (Matt. 19:27); Zebedee sons wanted to have their seats on the left and right hand sides of Jesus (Mark 10:38) but not in suffering.  Look in to our own society.  How many around us are under deprived conditions and we live mindlessly.  Most of the deprivations people are in are due to other’s failure to participate in their lives.

 

The disciples were called to be fishers of men (Matt. 4:19).  Their job used to be catching fish for their own lives and the lives of their immediate family. Now on the one hand they are to fish men for God and on the other hand they had to leave their own bread earning occupation. This is the suffering they had to take up.  Fishing people for God is drawing people near to Him. This can be done only if they are able to share the lives of people. Lives of people are a mixture of joy and sorrow and times of frustration and satisfaction. In participation with the sorrow they can eliminate sorrow from their lives. The beginning of that is in their participation with the suffering of Jesus. In that participation they learn how to be empathetic towards the suffering of others and they also will be actually participating in Jesus in the suffering of the whole creation. This is what Paul meant when he said, "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you" (Gal. 4:19).  This is not just a figurative speech alone. Sharing the pain of Christ will help share the lives of people because Jesus was suffering for the lives of people.  Here ‘Christ’ may mean every thing that will make the lives of the people and the rest of the creation better and saved.

 

Without sacrifice of self and every thing related to self nothing can be earned for others.  God left his glorious abode and came down to the world of pain and suffering to earn His creation. It does not mean than the disciples will not have a life at all. Their life will be a life in participation. Their life style will be changed accordingly. This is just as a man or a woman after marriage becoming a wife or husband. It will change their daily routine and life style. The primary concern of a dedicated wife or husband will be, as they are entrusted at the time of wedding, to take care of the partner. Even while the husband does not have any thing to eat, he need to work hard to feed his wife, it will happen the other way too. Thus both will survive in a mutually caring and complementary way. 

 

Lack of readiness to participate in the suffering is lack of faith in the person and work of Jesus according to the Epistle of Philippians 1:29.  So faith in Jesus helps us to participate in the suffering of others.  Without this participation faith becomes meaningless. So if one claims to have faith in Christ, it is imperative that that person has the readiness to share the suffering of others which is in fact the suffering of Jesus himself (Matt. 25:45). This is what Militos of Sardis meant when he said "In every situation of human suffering Christ is present and suffering".  If we claim that we are the children of God we need to take up suffering (Rom 8:17).  But many of us consider cross as some thing that is meant for others.

 

Look at Jesus who bore the cross for the whole creation. This is just as Isaiah said in 53:4 to 5; “Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed”. We are called to share His suffering for others. The cross is always an invitation to us, to be part of the suffering of creation to make its life better and whole. But this invitation is not responded positively most of the time. People say ‘let me say good bye to my household first or let me go and bury my father before I follow you (Luke 9:57 ff.). The very concept of ‘my’ is against Christian principles. If some one’s father is dead, it is not just the concern of that person alone. It is primarily the concern of Jesus, and consequently others too. If one is so concerned of his father, it means he has not understood the meaning of Christianity and Christian life style. One who is concerned of ‘mine’ can never be concerned satisfactorily of others. If not concerned of other, he can not share the suffering of others. If can not share suffering of others, he can not participate in the suffering of Jesus. Of course we claim that we on Hasa Friday share the suffering of Jesus. But that is only a mechanical expression mostly in words, not even liturgical (a liturgical expression can never be a verbal alone expression). The whole question of private is not quite at home for Christian understanding of community (Acts 4:32). If we do not participate in the suffering of Jesus, we can not be with him in his glory.  The gift of salvation for one of the thieves crucified with Jesus was on the basis of his recognition of the vicarious suffering of Jesus. This was his way of participating in the suffering of Jesus and consequently of the whole creation. That made him eligible to participate in the Kingdom of God.

 

We need to consider how we are trying to observe the Passion Week and Hasa Friday? It needs to be a liturgical observance. As said earlier, liturgical observance is not just a verbal expression or symbolic physical expression (prostrating and fasting etc.). It is the beginning of actual participation in the suffering of our fellow beings expressed and symbolized in the suffering of Jesus.  You may be able to fast for several days in the name of God, but if you can not skip a meal to feed others it can not be called fasting. You may be able to prostrate in prayer several times. But if you can not bend your knee before your brother what benefit it may have? Our observance of the suffering and death of Jesus need to be translated in to our participation, in a concrete and meaningful way, in the suffering of our fellow beings. The question ‘Could you men not keep watch with me for at least one hour’ is asked today in our contemporary social situation where we usually consider ‘my suffering is mine alone and my joy is also just mine’. With this attitude we will always be working to remove this ‘my’ suffering. This tendency is what was taken away on the cross. He was not concerned of his salvation though he was challenged by the crowd to save himself (Matt. 27:40). Let us paraphrase and ask ourselves "Could you not keep watch with fellow being for at least one hour?" because Jesus said "what ever you did to one of these, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:40).

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Easter Message


EASTER MESSAGE

Mor Meletius Yuhanon

 

The women who went early in the morning to pay homage to the dead and buried Jesus at the tomb were worried about who would remove the heavy stone that covered the face of the tomb for them. They found with surprise that the stone was already been removed.  But it was not for them to pay homage to the dead one, rather was for the resurrected one to come out of the tomb. 

 

Humans have to face obstacles and hurdles on a daily basis in this world. It is our hope and prayer that they be removed from our lives. We wonder who would help us do that.  But the relevant question is why should they be removed?  Just as the ladies who went to the tomb, we too have misunderstanding about the purpose. The ladies accepted the existing fact that Jesus was killed by the Jews and the only thing they could do further is just pay their respect to the buried one.  This is not a healthy attitude.  We are not to respect the existing unfavorable and unjust situation, rather should look for better possibilities. 

 

We should understand that some thing better is always in the waiting.  In the Nicene Creed we confess and say, “We look forward for the new life in the world to come”.  This world is not only the world after death, rather it is the world that emerge out of the old one every moment in our lives. We need to be ready to welcome it as and when it will be given to us. This is the true spirit of Christian life of resurrection.  But many people do not look for some thing better, on the contrary become content with what peripheral and little given to them.  What we need to have is our self respect, identity of personality, independence and hope for a better future assured.  And it is for that purpose the hurdles are to be removed.  It is to prepare the way for resurrection that we should remove the stone.  God is willing to remove the obstacle that block the liberation of our self as he did at the tomb.  But the question is whether we are ready to accept that God is doing it for our outliving and not for submission to death and slavery to sin.

 

Those ladies who did not have this hope thought that the stone was removed to smuggle out the Jesus’ body (John 20:1, 2).  The Jewish leaders published the same since it suited their purpose.  Thus the propagation of an essential truth was put to doubt by lack of readiness on the part of the followers of Jesus. How about us, what is our attitude?  This is the question posed by the Festival of Easter. We need to hope for the reestablishment of the essential good by God himself which is beyond the power and ability of humans.  This is the message of the Feast of Easter.