Today be start the book of Colossians. Written sometime form A.D. 60 to 62, it was written to a Church that Paul had no prior relationship with and probably didn’t know. Most likely it was written at the request of Epaphras, the founder of the Church in Colasse to address certain questions the congregation was having. It contains one of my absolute favorite verses.
That verse follows, in which Paul says one of the most striking things:
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what IS LACKING IN CHRIST’S AFFLICTIONS for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.
What could possibly be lacking in Christ’s afflictions (i.e., suffering)?
Jesus, being God, his sufferings have infinite value and they were therefore totally sufficient to redeem all of creation. What then could Paul possibly mean by saying that in his own flesh he makes up for what was lacking in Christ’s suffering?
For a Catholic, the answer is relative plain and shockingly profound.
On the Cross, Jesus, being God, took with him all human suffering past, present and future. He suffered it all for us, he redeemed it and he glorified it. By taking it unto himself he made it meritorious. By resurrecting, He has already successfully passed through it and overcome it. He did it all there past, present and future on the Cross and through the resurrection.
What is therefore lacking is our participation in it. What is lacking, from our perspective, is our future suffering. When we suffer, whether it be a stubbed toe or the grief at the death of a loved one Jesus participates in that suffering. We can, as members of the body of Christ, offer to God our willingness to bear the pain of that suffering. Bearing the pain of suffering and “offering it up” to Jesus on the Cross for our redemption, the redemption of others and the redemption of the world is meritorious because Jesus is bearing that suffering with us (and in fact has already done so). Willingly bearing that suffering, like Jesus did, makes us more like Christ. It changes us, it perfects us. This is why Paul can say that we are God’s “co-workers”. This is why the bond of being part of the body of Christ is so much more than a simple metaphor. Our sufferings are part of the work of the Cross because we are so closely united to Jesus.
And notice what Paul says, this is done “for the sake of his body, that is, the church”. Here we have a different letter and Paul is again emphasizing that the body of Christ is the Church and this perfection through suffering is done for the sake of the Church – i.e., those who will be saved.
This is a profound passage. It is one of the most profound in the New Testament. It warrants serious consideration and prayer by everyone.