What Is Grace?
This year’s Lent and Easter have come and gone, but the reason for them remains with us every day, every year of our lives. The great truths of life are found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Everything Jesus did was rooted in these truths. And the more we see that, the more we adopt the responsibilities of those truths into our daily lives, the freer we become.
The life of Christ is evidence that more often than we would wish, life is difficult. It is difficult because it often involves suffering. Suffering comes in many forms, of course, and it is inevitable in every life. And, truth be told, much of that suffering is the result of human sin, a self-contentedness, of one kind or another. If we are honest with ourselves we know that we are often the cause of suffering in others, either intentionally, or unintentionally. But the reality is that none of us escape suffering in this life.
Some of our suffering is unjust, undeserved, and this form of suffering whether physical, emotional, or psychological hurts more than all others. Jesus knows this more than any other human being who has ever lived. But Jesus’ life also tells us something about suffering that is often hard to take or understand. The reading from First Peter today is central to Jesus’ seemingly, illogical message to each of us. But what seems illogical to the world, Jesus makes logical by ʺwalking his talk.ʺ He shows us its truth and its efficacy.
ʺFor whenever anyone bears the pain of unjust suffering because of consciousness of God, that is a grace. What credit is there if you are patient when beaten for doing wrong? But if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.ʺ (1 Peter 2: 19-21)
To follow in the footsteps of Jesus, both in the times of the apostles and in our own time, can bring unwanted suffering to us. The world then, as well as now, does not take well to the challenges of the Christ life. Indeed, it often is in angry opposition to the truths that Christ offers to it. If we make a conscious, faithful effort to live as Jesus lived in the world we, too, may encounter unjust suffering. But Peter, who knew this kind of suffering for Christ very well, tells us what we need to hear. If we suffer these unjustices patiently, with our consciousness focused on Jesus, we will be given the graces we will need to endure. Indeed, our Christ-centered, patient suffering, may be the catalyst, the conduit of grace, through which Christ might bring about the conversion of one person, or of many.
None of us seek out suffering. That would be madness. And we should not delude ourselves in thinking that we gain some kind of nobility in suffering. That would be a sin of pride on our part. No. Suffering just comes to us in this fallen world. What Peter, through the Holy Spirit, is telling us in this passage is that, when we answer suffering by keeping our eyes on Jesus, rather than on ourselves, grace abounds, for us and, potentially, for those who witness our suffering in Jesus’ name. Look at what the centurions who crucified Jesus said of him at the moment of his death: ʺTruly, this was the Son of God.ʺ (Matthew 27:54) Because Jesus suffered the injustice of his condemnation and his crucifixion so patiently, so lovingly on behalf of all of us, great numbers of the people began to turn toward him and to believe that, indeed, he was the Son of God.
Historically, the Church grew from the blood of countless martyrs who, conscious of God, suffered patiently, and endured the injustices of hatred and the callous demands of ruthless political rulers who used and abused them for their own political purposes. They did not violently strike back at the injustices with their own self-righteous sense of justice and revenge. By doing so, they would only have multiplied the sin and the injustice. They did not whine and beg for mercy, they did not try to escape their suffering by giving in to the demands that they turn away from the faith and begin worshiping the gods of the times. They knew that their suffering was unjust, but because they knew God, and were conscious of God’s love for them in Jesus, they willingly joined their suffering to that of Jesus. In doing so, they strengthened their brother and sister believers, and drew many conversion and to the faith.
In the early Church, the believers also chose to suffer and sacrifice for the common good. ʺAll who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. AND EVERY DAY THE LORD ADDED TO THEIR NUMBER THOSE WHO WERE BEING SAVED.ʺ (Acts 2:44-47) (Acts 4:32-35) And that is the grace that comes from our suffering can effect, if we keep our minds and hearts on Jesus.
Though suffering is inevitable in this life, and though some of it is unjust, when we endure it patiently for God, we Christians can take heart in knowing that the Suffering Servant will be with us. He will strengthen us, and he will turn our suffering, through his grace, into something good for the Kingdom of God. Let us, then, keep our eyes on God in all that we do. For in this there is much grace.