No skipping ahead

You know, Jesus didn’t just “pretend die.”

I think there’s a natural strand in us that wants a God who always wins. That’s kind of the deal, right? If God is really in control, all-powerful and way beyond anything we can imagine as good, true, beautiful, then how can God ever suffer? How can God ever lose?

That aversion to losing and suffering and addiction to winning runs deep, especially in our American culture. We get a lot of versions of religion and, well, life, that only glorifies winners and can’t handle the prospect of losing.

One of the things that I have come to appreciate about the Catholic faith I adopted is the crucifix – the cross with a crucified Jesus still on it. Some people may think that we take it a little too far – and, sure, Mel Gibson’s Passion movie is pretty gory. Even if it’s fairly accurate, I get the folks who are a little squeamish about it, a little weirded out about how much Catholics seem to dwell in Good Friday.

But I’ve come to realize that it’s a helpful counterbalance to our urge to skip ahead to the happy ending. The suffering Jesus – Christus patiens – is an essential part of understanding the whole Jesus story, and, as importantly, understanding our own lives.

Because the suffering part of Jesus’ story is the part that most gives us hope. 

Not (for me) from the perspective of Jesus-as-sin-offering on our behalf, which is the traditional understanding that I can’t swallow. Not even from the perspective that the crucifixion and resurrection tells us that there is no hurt we can throw at God that His love for us can’t take and transform. Love wins, but it’s more than that.

All of us, if we’re honest, suffer and lose, probably more than we win. (Even those of you who are not Jags, Wake, or Rays fans.) We don’t get what we want. We lose people we love. Life doesn’t turn out like we dreamed it would. 

What Jesus hanging on a cross shows us is that we aren’t alone in losing. We have great company. And when the supports get knocked out from under our feet and we are left to dangle, we can know it’s not only OK if all we have to cling to is the hope that God loves us and is with us in the suffering. Because one way or the other, we’ll eventually learn that that’s really the only thing we have or need, even when the times are good.

I’m sorry that we can’t all skip ahead to the winning part. But that’s just not how any of this works.

I don’t know why this came to me, because it’s not really related to Fratelli Tutti or politics or any particular situation in my life or anything else. But maybe somebody besides me needed to hear it.

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