Second Reading: Colossians 1:24-28
Suffering For the Gospel
24 I am now happy to suffer for you. In the scars on my body, I help Christ finish the job he began on the cross for his Body, the Church. 25 Just like God wanted, I am now a servant of the Church. He sent me so I could completely explain God's Word to you. 26 It is a mystery, hidden from people who lived long ago. But now, God made it clear to his saints. 27 He even wanted the Gentiles to know how rich and glorious this mystery was. It is Christ with you. It is the hope of our future glory!
28 We preach about Christ. We warn everyone and teach everyone God's wisdom. We do this so we can one day stand with everyone before Jesus as full human beings.
24 Now, I rejoice in my suffering on your behalf and I fill up the missing in the afflictions of CHRIST in my flesh on behalf of his Body which is the Church, 25 of which I became a servant according to the stewardship of God, the (One) having given me to you, to make full the word of God, 26 the mystery, having been concealed from the ages and the generation but now was made clear to his saints, 27 to whom God wanted to make known among the Gentiles what are the riches of the glory of this mystery which is CHRIST in you, the hope of glory. 28 HIM we proclaim warning every man and teaching every man in wisdom so that we might stand along side every man (totally) complete in CHRIST...
1:24-27 In this long sentence, Paul explained his ministry in terms of suffering. He suffered for the Church and he saw his suffering as an extension of Christ's outreach. His suffering (i.e., his ministry) had one purpose, to "flesh out" the Good News for his audience. When those who heard Paul accepted his message, they received more than just a new faith. They received the presence of the Risen Christ. So, Paul saw his suffering as a means to make Christ present in the world.
1:28 "so that we might stand along side every man (totally) complete in CHRIST..." This was a reference to the Final judgment, when every person would find their fulfillment.
Why do we suffer on earth?
This is not a mere question of surviving evil. It is a question of purpose. In a world where evil resides, we are all bound to suffer. But does our suffering have a reason and a direction?
For Paul, the suffering of his life was directed toward evangelization. He saw his ministry as a extension of Christ's ministry that cumulated on the cross. If Christ gave his all, Paul reasoned, so should he. And, if Christ rose from the dead, he would also rise in glory.
Paul did not think he could complete what Christ left unfinished on the cross. (How could Paul and the other early Christian authors then argue Christ was the perfect High Priest and perfect victim?) No, Paul saw his life and suffering as an instrument of Christ's ministry. He went to proclaim the Good News. Then, in faith, the risen Lord would be present among the new believers. Christ began his ministry and made it full on the cross. The mystery of salvation was now made clear. Paul continued that ministry. But, Christ would complete it on the Last Day. This would be the Day when all people would receive their final destiny. Believers would be made whole, body and soul. And they would be made complete as full mature members in the Body of Christ.
Like Paul, we have suffered and will suffer in life. But, will we use our suffering to partake in the ministry of Christ? Are we willing to extend ourselves to others, to bring them the Good News, and help make Christ present in their lives? This is the challenge of Christian living. This is the challenge Paul placed before us with his example.
Where does suffering fit into the meaning of your life? How do you suffer for the Gospel and the good of others?