SUFFERING PRECEDES BLESSINGS
1st reading: Gen. 12:2-4; 2nd reading: 2 Tim. 1:8-10; Gospel: Matt. 17:1-9
Suffering could be seen as the disruption of inner human harmony caused by physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional forces experienced as isolating and threatening human existence. It also includes the serious bodily pains or mental discomforts that people experience in life. The reasons for and meaning of suffering, which appears to be inseparable from human life, have been the subject of debate throughout history. The question is, “Can our sufferings be meritorious? Can blessings come through suffering?”
THE CALL AND OBEDIENCE OF ABRAHAM
Abraham was a man of faith and the spiritual father of all believers, especially those who trust in God even when their life situation seems hopeless or difficult. As we observe in the first reading, when God called him to leave behind the country of his ancestors and begin an entirely new existence in a foreign land, where he would face the dangers and difficulties of settling among strangers; he did not hesitate. Even when he had no child, he trusted implicitly and wholeheartedly in the true God, who had revealed Himself to him.
Surprisingly, Abraham acted in obedience to God’s commands and took a leap into the unknown with utter faith in God’s word, even when the missionary endeavour seemed arduous. He anchored his faith in God’s words and promises: “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.” “I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse, and by you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).
Similarly, in Abraham’s call, we as Christians can see our call (vocation) to listen and obey God’s voice despite the challenges we may encounter. We have the obligation to move from our comfort zones to faithfully share the knowledge of God wherever we may find ourselves. In other words, we must leave our old ways of life behind and follow God’s words as well as His divine plans for us in sincerity, no matter the vicissitudes of life. Certainly, God’s power and blessings will surely envelop us once we obey Him like Abraham.
THE GLORIOUS SPLENDOUR OF JESUS CHRIST
The gospel reading of today is a source of Christ’s encouragement and hope for His disciples. Jesus Christ had earlier told His disciples about His impending suffering and humiliation (Matthew 16:21–25), but they found it difficult to comprehend. Hence, to strengthen them for the scandal of the cross and His apparent failure, Jesus Christ now gives His disciples (Peter, James, and John) a glimpse of His future glory.
Consequently, the faith of Jesus’ disciples was challenged as they witnessed the glorious splendour of Jesus Christ during His Transfiguration. They were still engrossed in their fantasy when the real message of God’s voice came through from the bright cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5). Here, God the Father gives a definitive answer to Jesus’ true identity as the Saviour, Chosen One, and Beloved Son of God, to whom we must listen.
INVITATION TO BEAR AUTHENTIC WITNESS FOR CHRIST
The appearance of Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophet, respectively, as they bear witness to Jesus Christ, points to the final times, that is, the Passion of Christ. In the Eucharistic celebration, when we encounter Jesus Christ, our faith is challenged.
We are constantly invited to sincerely listen to the Word of God and receive Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In the end, we are being commissioned to bear authentic witness to the risen Lord by radiating the transforming religious experience we had during the Eucharistic celebration.
CHRIST’S ASSURANCE OF BLESSINGS AFTER SUFFERINGS
In the second reading, St. Paul reminds Timothy of the necessity of suffering for the gospel if he is to preach it effectively. Furthermore, to take them as his share of suffering in following Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 1:8). Just as Jesus Christ told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my disciple, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Moreover, Christ gave them assurance, when He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me, you may have peace. In this world, you will suffer many persecutions, but be courageous, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
Our humanity may be debased by slavery, corrupted by power, or degraded into a mass of animated dust, but the light of God that it conceals will finally break through. So, we are being encouraged by the Lord’s Transfiguration to be patient in the midst of troubles, for it radiates hope in the ultimate victory of the good. As the scripture says, “Patient endurance is what you need now so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that God has promised” (Hebrews 10:36).
ENCOURAGEMENT TO SUFFERING CHRISTIANS
Jesus Christ gained victory through suffering and patient endurance. His sufferings resulted from the fact that He took the place of sinners vicariously. The suffering which began with the incarnation finally reached its climax in the passio magna (great passion) at the end of His life.
His capacity for suffering was commensurate with the ideal character of His humanity, with His ethical perfection, and with His sense of righteousness, holiness, and veracity. Hence, Christ now, as our High Priest, stands ready to provide us with the strength to persevere until the end. As a matter of fact, no one can achieve real success without struggles and sufferings.
In his exhortation, St. Peter encourages those who are facing unjust sufferings, instigated by the devil, to persevere and look forward to the eternal glory in Christ. He says, “Even if you suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.” But let no one suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief-maker. “Since Christ has suffered physical bodily pain, you too must arm yourselves with the same attitude He had and be ready to suffer too.” “For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin.” “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 3:14; 4:1, 15; 5:10).
The readings of today remind us of the necessity of suffering, and self-mortification, especially during this period of Lent. The glory that humanity will eventually attain, promised by Christ’s Transfiguration, is already ours through our Baptism. Since the obedience and subsequent sufferings of Abraham and Jesus Christ engendered multifaceted blessings for us. Ipso facto, our obedience and suffering can be sources of blessings for us and others. For good people suffer many troubles, but the Lord delivers them all (Psalm 34:19).
Lastly, suffering precedes blessings. As the scripture says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). “As a matter of fact, this momentary suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Therefore, we need to have faith in God’s word at all times. However, it is not enough to study God’s Words, or even to have a spiritual encounter with Him, but to do what He tells us daily in the Scriptures, like Abraham, and sacrifice our lives for the sake of the gospel.
May the Holy Spirit strengthen you in your sufferings, bless your struggles with success, and in the end, may you receive the crown of unfading glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Peace of Christ be with you…
Rev. Fr. Ben Okala, C.S.Sp.
HOMILY OF 2ND SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR C