On this Holy Thursday, at Morning Prayer, I had the sacred privilege of sharing a reflection on a few powerful lines of Scripture:
We see Jesus “crowned with glory and honor” because he suffered death, he who “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,” that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering. Hebrews 2: 9-10
This passage from this morning’s Liturgy of the Hours might well be inscribed on the Crucifix and mosaic in the St. Joseph’s sanctuary. Why is the painful image of Jesus hanging from the cross set against a backdrop of shimmering gold? It is the ultimate paradox. Jesus is crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death for our sake in such a horrific, violent, barbaric way.
God the Father did, indeed, makes his Son perfect through suffering. What does the author of Hebrews mean here by “perfect?” Rather than our superficial notion of a perfect score or perfect human achievement, in the New Testament this word is used to describe a person who fulfills their purpose or matures into the role God has in mind for them. In the early Church it described someone who had completed the catechumenate and was ready to be baptized into the faith community.
Jesus is made perfect so that he can lead all of us into the salvation God has waiting for us. Through his human suffering, Jesus embraces his identity with us, sympathizes with our pain and suffering, and now he knows how he can lead us to new life.
All of our pain and suffering pales in comparison. Yet, our setbacks in life serve a similar purpose. They allow us to join ourselves in deeper union with Jesus; our setbacks allow us to know each other’s pain and suffering so that we can lead each other through it.
The spiritual writer Richard Rohr has shared a number of thoughts on this subject in his daily emails leading up to Holy Week. Among them is the idea that if we are not transformed by our suffering then we will surely transmit our suffering to others. (Isn't that the truth?) On the other hand, transformed people, he says, transform other people.
On this Holy Thursday, as we get ready to celebrate the Paschal Triduum, and as we prepare to welcome many into our Catholic churches, what is the model of suffering and salvation that Jesus asks us to imitate? Are we people who transmit suffering or are we people who are transformed by suffering so that we can transform others?
Pope Francis wrote in the Joy of the Gospel, “How beautiful it is to stand before the Crucifix, simply to be under the Lord’s gaze, so full of love.” What a beautiful invitation to stand before the Crucifix in these days. By the grace of God, may we be transformed in love for others.