A Season of Lent: Suffering For Righteousness

“Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?”

Some think suffering is pointless. They see it only as a cruelty. But the Passion of the Christ challenges both of those assumptions. In the Lenten readings for today we read about suffering both through Joseph’s experience and Jesus’ parable of his then future experience and of ours. In Matthew we read of a plot to kill the son of the owner of a vineyard just as in Genesis we read of the plot to kill Joseph.

“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:19-20)

“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. (Matthew 21: 38-39)

In his famous mystery, The Man Who Was Thursday, Chesterton writes about this profound truth about suffering: we are not asked to do anything that Christ has not done himself first. Suffering is not pointless. It is the most pointed reply we can give the accuser of us all: “We also have suffered!” We have shared in the cup that Jesus drank of.  Gabriel Syme, the protagonist of the story comes to a startling conclusion:

“‘I see everything,’ he cried, “everything that there is. Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? Why does a dandelion have to fight the whole universe? For the same reason that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, ‘You lie!’ No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, ‘We also have suffered’.

He had turned his eyes so as to see suddenly the great face of Sunday, which wore a strange smile.
“Have you,” he cried in a dreadful voice, “have you ever suffered?”

As he gazed, the great face grew to an awful size, grew larger than the colossal mask of Memnon, which had made him scream as a child. It grew larger and larger, filling the whole sky; then everything went black. Only in the blackness before it entirely destroyed his brain he seemed to hear a distant voice saying a commonplace text that he had heard somewhere, “Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?” – G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday, 1908

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