Today’s reading: Colossians 1
Today we start the book of Colossians. Written sometime from 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 Colosse 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:
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, 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, 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, therefore, 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 relatively simple and yet shockingly profound.
On the Cross, Jesus, being God, took with him all human suffering – past, present, and future. He felt and suffered all the suffering that everyone who ever lived or will live suffers and he passed through it, he redeemed it and he glorified it. By taking our suffering unto himself he made it meritorious. He combined our suffering with his and therefore he used our suffering together with his to accomplish our salvation and the salvation of the world. By resurrecting, He has already successfully passed through it, overcome it, and defeated all suffering.
Therefore, the only thing that can be lacking is our participation in suffering. What is lacking, from our perspective, is our future suffering and how we approach it. When we suffer, whether it be a stubbed toe or the grief at the death of a loved one, Jesus participates in that suffering. He has already born it and defeated it. The question is, as we are going through it, how do we approach it. We can, as members of the body of Christ, offer to God our willingness to bear, as much as we can, the pain of our 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. This is why Paul can say that we are literally God’s “co-workers”.
Suffering changes us, it perfects us. 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.
This is a profound passage. It is one of the most profound in the New Testament. It warrants serious consideration and prayer by everyone.
Tomorrow: Colossians 2