The Reading is from the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians 4:6-15
In today’s reading from the apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church we hear these words
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”
These words may resonate with us. We sometimes feel afflicted, perplexed and even persecuted and “struck down” in the midst of all the troubles in the world. We feel afflicted with various sickness and bodily weaknesses. We are perplexed by the bad news that is always presented everywhere we turn. We sometimes feel persecuted for instance when someone has unjustly blamed us for something at work or at school or when we are the victims of slander or gossip. And there are even days when we feel struck down. Those are the days when we are “in the pits.” When nothing is going our way and when we feel that the whole world is against us.
Now I want you to know that what I have just described above has almost nothing to do with the context in which the apostle Paul is writing. When he speaks of all of these troubling things, afflictions, confusion, persecution, he is not speaking about the daily grind as you and I might experience it. He is speaking about the various sufferings that he and the other apostles had been exposed to as they spread the message of the good news of Jesus Christ.
In a way this passage puts our own suffering into context. Sometimes we feel afflicted. It is even possible that we have brought on our afflictions through willfully ignoring God’s commandments for our life. We feel perplexed, perhaps because our schedules are too full or our finances are too complicated. Or even because our prayer life is so empty. These were brought on by our choices and decisions. But what the apostle Paul speaks of here is something quite different. He is talking about being afflicted and perplexed for the sake of serving our Lord Jesus.
The gospels and the rest of the New Testament promise us that when we suffer for doing good, when we suffer for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ, we find meaning in our suffering and we find that these sufferings will be relatively short-lived and replaced with blessings that we cannot even conceive. St. Paul continues saying the apostles are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. While we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Today you and I try to find ways to extend our lives and preserve them at all costs. Maybe that is why we struggle to find meaning in our lives. The apostles have shown us a different way.
According to St. Paul they were “always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake.” They had seen their friends and even family members killed for faith in Christ. They escaped one danger after another knowing that at some point their lives would be poured out for the name of the Lord. But here is what St. Paul says “we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that He Who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence.”
This puts things into some perspective. We sometimes act like the Lord is far off and will never see our genuine struggles. We are mostly living our lives as if we will never die. Or we go to the other extreme and we are afraid of death. But in the writings of the Church fathers there is no fear of death because Christ our king is the conqueror of death and He is the author of life. What we see instead in the writings of many of the Church fathers is a fear of wasting life and not using life to struggle to draw near to God. Using life as an excuse to do what you want instead of using it as a chance to really know God through prayer, good works and the whole life of the Church.
This suffering that Paul speaks of and that the apostles went through is not simply suffering meant for certain people who lived long ago. It is very clearly a normal part of being called by the family name “Christian.” In a way we can say that our birthright (through baptism) is to suffer as our Lord suffered. But beyond that it is our birthright as the children of God to be raised in glory and to dwell in the presence of God the Father. If we suffer for our own sakes and our own causes….our suffering will not count for much. It will be a testimony to our self-centered lives.
When a man struggles to spread the message of Jesus Christ (or live like Him) his suffering becomes precious in the sight of God. He begins to live the life of a prophet, an apostle, a martyr. He begins to “carry in the body the death of Jesus” and by this very act “the life of Jesus becomes manifested.” May the Lord redeem our lives for this very purpose.
Glory be to God forever AMEN.