Immediately after morning Mass today, I came to my room in order to reply some comments and I discovered this screen shot (from facebook) that was sent to me by a friend via whatsApp. At a first glance, I frowned but reading further, I was impressed especially with the last statement (you can check it too).
I derived three unstated assumptions from that screen shot.
1. Those churches that claim to have healing powers have been exposed to be fake with the emergence of corona virus and its supposed consequences of shutting down churches.
2. Since all the churches have been closed, could it be that all churches are fake?
3. If so, then, of what value is the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, upon which the Church was instituted?
It could therefore be observed from the content in that picture that many of us have lost meaning to the redemptive value of Christ’s suffering. The worst among them are the fanatic promoters of prosperity gospel. They have no value for the Cross and have relegated the mysterious and precious gift embedded in the suffering of our blessed Lord to the acquisition of earthly riches and good health alone. In their usual slangs, you would hear: sickness is not my portion, poverty is not my inheritance, suffering will never see my back; Amen somebody: and the congregation will shout Amen!!!. Probably, those who are sick, poor or suffering among them, are not yet true christians. Very funny indeed. To such persons, Julius Malema (the person who owns the post in that picture) would challenge to come and demonstrate their powers upon corona virus. Meanwhile, the infinite power of the Cross, the unprecedented power of him who conquered death, our Lord Jesus Christ is far more beyond the arbitrary level that some (fake) christians have limited it.
I must immensely thank Malema for raising this thought provoking questions at a gracious moment that we are preparing to celebrate the suffering, death and resurrection of our Blessed Lord.
Providentially, the readings of yesterday (Palm Sunday) reflected the sufferings of Christ in different capacities. The first reading (Is.50:4-7) anticipated it, the second reading (Phil.2:6-11) reiterated it, while the gospel (Mtt. 26:14-27:66) narrated it in detail.
THE CHIEF QUESTION
The chief question therefore is; of what value is the suffering and death of Christ? It is the chief question because it is the bedrock of our Christian life. So, adequate response to this question will clarify why there is church in the first place ( as Malema asked), it will also strengthen and deepen our faith as christians, and inform us about the goals of authentic follower of Christ.
Our response to the above question on the value of the suffering and death of Christ shall come in two dimensions. The first will be biblical, and the second; practical.
The biblical response is summed up in Rom.5:18; it says “just as one transgression (by Adam) brought sentence of death to all, so too, one righteous act (Christ’s death) brought pardon and life to all”. Thus the whole of humanity forms the tribe of Adam, and Adams sin affected the whole race ( from this stems the Catholic doctrine of original sin). But likewise, there is a mystical unity of redeemed humanity in Christ, through whom we are given the saving righteousness and life – the abundant grace (favour) of God, that should not be misconstrued or limited to earthly favour of riches and good health.
In sum, the suffering and death of Christ offered us the enabling environment and potency to live with God (after life) and no longer to be visiting us at the garden of Eden(as it was before the fall of Adam and Eve). Conscious of this eternal value of the highest order, our Christian consciousness therefore, should not stoop low to the level of faith by sensation, satisfying our selfish desires and subjected to worldliness and perishable riches.
Remember his heartfelt response to the Samaritan woman at Jacobs well (Jn.4:14), “…but whoever drinks of this water that I shall give, will never be thirsty… It will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”(and not just earthly life).
In order to realize this eternal life, Christ maintained the choice of the Cross, which is inevitably the final victory. This is the Cross which prosperity gospel preachers have abandoned in the fake pursuit of riches and healing ministries. But our blessed Lord would continue to tell us the conditional requirement of drinking that living water as In Lk.9:23; “if anyone would be a follower of mine, let him deny himself and take up his cross each day, and follow me”. I do not want to add the dogma (that followed immediately in vs 24-25) against those who are only interested in the life here on earth.
This divine option for the Cross brings us to the practical dimension of Christ’s suffering. Let me immediately establish the fact that his suffering is presented to us as a paradigm and not as a surrogate experience. I will explain my intensionality here by using three images.
First image: I remember the first time I got a “maths-set” at school. I was thrilled by all the forms I saw in the maths-set. But then gradually our teachers brought us to see that the forms in that maths-set only had meaning if we use it to replicate the figures that resemble them. In the same way, we are meant to realise that the different forms of Christ’s suffering becomes meaningful if we can become another Christ relevant in our existential condition.
Second image: We say in Igbo that when a she-goat eats grass, its young ones observe it: Nne ewu na-ata nni, umu ya ana-ene ya anya n’onu. By this we mean that the she-goat teaches its young by her personal example. The she-goat cannot do it all for her young ones. She cannot eat grass for them. They must do what they observe their mother do. We can say in this sense that Christ is the she-goat and we his young ones. We must learn from his example which is the way of the cross.
Third image: Parents often say: “my children should have a better life than myself”. There are some parents who take this too far. They understand it to mean that their children must not suffer what they suffered. And so they literally carry them on the laps of pleasure until they get spoilt. Our blessed Lord cannot be that kind of parents. But there are other parents who understand it to be that their children must make their own experiences in order to learn from them and mature through exposure to such experiences. This is surely a better option than those who literally spoil their children. Christ’s suffering did not aim at making us spoilt children, who long tho acquire riches only only by claiming it in his name without working for It, or who long to be always healed miraculously without going to hospital. Of course, just like a rich good father, who has all it takes to stupendously settle his son who is making effort, so is our blessed Lord has the infinite power to grant our requests only when we have made maximum use of the resources (wisdom and grace) he has bestowed upon us. He does not act arbitrarily.
Following from the above images, to imagine that Christ suffered for us in a surrogate fashion, meaning that his suffering has dealt a deathblow to suffering in the life of his followers is an illusion. Thus to pick scandal at finding suffering and sins in our lives remain a delusion. The purpose of his suffering is to open our eyes to the reality of suffering in human life and to find meaning in it.
Christ teaches us that there is a mystery in suffering that can best be borne out by surrendering ourselves to the will of God. And to those who understand Christ’s suffering as such, going to Church will make sense and salvation shall be theirs.