Jesus stands for truth in a world filled with suffering

Father John A. Kiley

The Gospel versions according to Sts. Matthew, Mark and Luke are often termed the “Synoptic Gospels” because the similarity among them can be observed “at a glance,” as the Greek word “synoptic” indicates. Nowhere is this evangelical agreement more evident than in the sacred authors’ reporting of Christ’s triple predictions of his Passion. St. Mark’s three chapter and verse references to the Passion are most easily remembered: 8:31, 9:3 and 10:33.

But Sts. Matthew and Luke are just as resolute to include the triple predictions so that there may be no doubt in any believer’s mind that Jesus was totally aware of the fate awaiting him in Jerusalem and that he embraced that fate with resolve and determination.

Even after 2,000 years of Christianity, the faithful are still scandalized by suffering. Even ardent believers figure that suffering is a punishment for personal failings and that if one were a really good Christian, there would be no suffering in one’s life. In the popular mind, suffering is a sign of disfavor before God. “What did I do to deserve this?” is still a question many good Catholics continue to ask. Sometimes persons do indeed bring sufferings on themselves through neglect or abuse. Sometimes persons endure sufferings beyond their control, such as illness, unemployment and violence. But the suffering that Jesus variously predicted for himself was not simply the result of bad habits or bad luck. Jesus suffered because of his heroic witness to the truth.

Jesus stood for truth in a world of error. Jesus stood for justice in a world of injury. Jesus stood for belief in a world of skepticism. Jesus faced up to evil in its many facets and evil could not tolerate the exposure. In a world of deceit, truth invites persecution. In fact, if a Christian experiences no quarrels in his life, no misunderstanding, no aggravation, then his compliance to the truth, his promotion of the truth, must surely be questioned. As Sts. Paul and Barnabas would later advise their converts, "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." Bearing witness to the truth was not easy for Jesus and it is not easy for the modern believer. In fact, harassment from the world is the measure of our conformity to Christ.

As the old Protestant consensus that held sway in this country until well into the 20th century continues to fall apart, the believing Christian, both Protestant and Catholic, will find himself more and more out of step with the prevailing secular wisdom.

Prayer in public life, Sunday as a day of rest, the legal favoring of marriage stability, prohibitions against abortion and illegitimacy and contraception, ill regard for homosexuality, acknowledgment of authority in making individual choices, even a reverential treatment of death and dying – these enduring traditions of Western society are daily questioned and often entirely dismissed.

The Christian who, in the face of secular erosion, dares to defend the faith of our fathers as embodied in these previously common assumptions can expect to be vilified as a reactionary or dismissed as uncaring or pitied as hopelessly out of touch.

Jesus’ campaign for the truth was not an easy operation.

The crowds were fickle and their support could not be taken for granted. The apostles were well-intentioned but at times, they could be timid. Their support was debatable. The religious authorities were consumed with envy as St. Mark famously notes. Not only did they deny support to Jesus’ ministry, but they also actively conspired to depart from the Jerusalem scene altogether.

The pagan world had little time for Jesus Christ, including him with those several crackpots who from time to time pointlessly rattled the people and were in great danger of disastrously rattling Rome. Frankly, Jesus was almost on his own. The Father and the truth were his only collaborators.

Courage and determination in the face of great odds have been hallmarks of Christianity through the ages just as fortitude and resolve marked the public life of Jesus Christ. Ease, comfort, and sympathy were not Jesus’ lot in life nor will they be the destiny of today’s alert Christian.