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(Part 25)


November 18, 2009

Today’s scripture (2 Mc 7:1-31) always makes for fascinating reading. It is about the martyrdom of a Jewish mother and her seven sons, all in one day. The seven sons are subjected to gruesome and horrible torture. The book was written to encourage God’s people in times of persecution. Indeed, the book was popular among the Christians of the early centuries, who were subjected to persecution, and many of them were martyred.

Today Christians are still persecuted in many places in the world. Today there are still martyrs for the cause of Christ. But today, many Christians, especially those living in the First World, live a comfortable Christianity. They avoid pain and discomfort. And when a little affliction comes their way, they easily wither away.

But there will always be pain and crosses in life. It might be a devastating typhoon with severe flooding, like what Ondoy wrought. Or it might be so many other different things. For Christians, what is important is how they endure and persevere.

One thing that will help a lot is to understand a bit more why God allows such suffering, especially in the lives of the innocent. In a word, such suffering is redemptive.

First, suffering can be purification from sin and wrongdoing. “We, indeed, are suffering because of our sins.” (2 Mc 7:32). Many people will not turn away from their sins unless something drastic happens to them. Perhaps a serious illness, or an accident, or the loss of a loved one, or bankruptcy, or a devastating flood. But such events, painful as they are, are God’s way to get our attention, to teach us our lesson, and of course to turn us back to Himself. “Though our living Lord treats us harshly for a little while to correct us with chastisements, he will again be reconciled with his servants.” (2 Mc 7:33).

Second, such suffering can be redemptive not only for ourselves but for others. As there are many who do evil but do not know how to be otherwise because they do not know Christ, then it is left to those who do know Christ to make reparation for their sins. We then become sacrificial lambs, but in being so, become mediators and intercessors. “Like my brothers, I offer up my body and my life for our ancestral laws, imploring God to show mercy soon to our nation” (2 Mc 7:37a). The suffering of a just person can be redemptive for the unjust.

Third, such suffering brings us, who are all sinners, back to God and back to His eternal plan for us. It is the way of the cross, the very way God Himself chose. Jesus won salvation for us by going to the cross. There is no other way. Certainly not the gospel of prosperity, or the gospel of going to heaven in first-class comfort. “Through me and my brothers, may there be an end to the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.” (2 Mc 7:38).

When we understand how suffering can be redemptive, then we no longer disdain suffering (that is, if suffering is for the sake of righteousness). We endure and bear suffering “courageously because of (our) hope in the Lord.” (2 Mc 7:20b). We endure and bear suffering, even unto death, without giving in to the ways of the world that can relieve our suffering, because we put “all (our) trust in the Lord.” (2 Mc 7:40).

We hope and trust in God, because He is merciful and He has a great and wonderful plan for us, which He wants fulfilled in our lives, but which our sins prevent from happening. So as a father to his child, God disciplines us in order to bring us back to the right path. Such discipline is often through affliction and pain. But even in the midst of the most terrible suffering, we are assured: “He never withdraws his mercy from us. Although he disciplines us with misfortunes, he does not abandon his own people.” (2 Mc 6:16).

What is our life on earth after all? It is preparation for our life in heaven. We are pilgrims merely passing through. We invest ourselves not in this life but in the next. We may suffer deprivation in “this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” (2 Mc 7:9a).

Given all these, we not only do not disdain suffering, but we embrace it with joy. Eleazar, a venerable old man also martyred, when he was about to die under the blows, uttered: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” (2 Mc 6:30).

Redemptive suffering. Suffering that leads to redemption. So very different from the wisdom of the world. So very challenging for us, to be able to take on God’s own wisdom, and see the value and blessing of suffering in life.

We suffer but for a moment, but we reap the joy of everlasting life, according to God’s plan for us. “My brothers, after enduring brief pain, have drunk of never-failing life, under God’s covenant” (2 Mc 7:36a).

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