Friday, August 12, 2022

Homilies

Eschatological Fulfillment
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.
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Eschatological Fulfillment

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The passage which we read this Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians has generated much discussion. Most of the discussion concerns his claim that the sufferings of his own flesh fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ’s body. As I said a few Sundays ago, St. Paul was educated by Jewish rabbis and Greek philosophers. To understand what he is claiming in this statement, one must be familiar with some Greek philosophy. For Greek philosophers, the end of the world (which they called the Parousia or the Eschaton) would be preceded by a time of great tribulation. They likened this to the experience of a woman who experiences extreme pain before she gives birth to a child. According to Jewish thinking, similar tribulation will precede the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, Paul is saying that his own physical sufferings contribute to what is now known as the “woes” or “birth pangs” of the second coming of Christ.

Paul would never say that the sufferings of Jesus were in any way lacking in their atoning efficacy. Rather, he believed that, joined to Jesus, his own sufferings had merit and could be seen as part of the sufferings that would inaugurate the messianic age or, as it is commonly known, the end of the world. For this reason, Paul can claim to rejoice in his suffering regardless of the agony he might be enduring. He believes that when Christians unite themselves to Jesus and his sufferings, they are hastening the time of ultimate eschatological fulfillment. The sufferings that he is enduring and which are chronicled in his many letters in the Christian Scriptures are all part of his ministry. He suffers for his preaching of the Gospel.

Paul’s ministry consists in preaching the Word of God, specifically the doctrine of salvation to the Gentiles. According to St. Paul, the Gentiles are included along with the other holy ones, those who have been baptized and transformed in Christ. Having tasted the glory of Christ at the time of their baptism, they await in hope the fullness of that glory.

Throughout the Sundays of Ordinary Time, our readings will point to the cost of our discipleship. In other words, we will be schooled in the personal limitations that are imposed by our faith and by our following of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself told us that his followers would be those who picked up their crosses and walked in his footsteps. From the very beginning, Jesus has reminded us that true disciples will suffer for their stewardship.

Ultimately the real message that St. Paul proclaims is Christ the risen Lord. To borrow from the great Jewish Rabbi Hillel: everything else is commentary! However, commentary is necessary for us to understand the specific impact of the message in every time and place. As a steward or minister of the household, the body of Christ, the church, it is every disciple’s responsibility to make sure that in the domain of our stewardship everything is focused upon the sacrificial death of Jesus on Mount Calvary. Careful reading of the Acts of the Apostles will show us many instances where the apostles rejoice when they are called upon to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. Consequently, St. Paul’s claim that he can rejoice in his suffering is in line with that of Peter and the other apostles.

It is for this reason that we can claim that human suffering is redemptive. If we, like St. Paul, join our afflictions and pain to that of Christ crucified, we too can add to what is lacking in the afflictions of Jesus. Before his sojourn on the earth, human suffering was regarded as a punishment for sin. However, because he who was sinless gave himself up to be crucified and executed, we no longer regard suffering and pain as the reward of sin. Each of us is called to join ourselves to Jesus as he bears the burden of the sins of humankind. Just as God rewarded Jesus for his suffering with the resurrection, we, too, will one day rise from the dead and will experience the full glory of our baptism.

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