17 Jun If Jesus suffered for us, why should we suffer? (Transcribed talks – Fr. Joseph Edattu, VC)
Like many people ask, are you one of those who often wonder why you should suffer when Christ already did for you? Are you one of those who often forget that the way of Jesus is that of the Cross and that of pain and suffering?
This is something that is a very important aspect of Christian theology. A lot of people ask this question. During the Lenten period, we talk about suffering and how we need to do fasting, penances, abstinence, avoiding certain foods, going through the Stations of the Cross, enduring some pain in our bodies. In the Catholic church, it’s like promoting voluntary suffering. Fr. Joseph said that sometime in the past, one of his friends who is a protestant pastor told him that the Catholics were advancing a wrong teaching because if Jesus suffered for mankind, why should we have to suffer again? To the pastor, if Jesus went through all the torture and suffering on the cross, why should we have to suffer? And why do we have all the fasting, penances, suffering and flogging like some saints – St John Paul used to do and so on?
What does the Bible say about these – fasting, abstinence, Almsgiving, penances etc?
Are penances, sacrifices, abstinence and almsgiving which Jesus told us to do against the Bible? No, they are not. Jesus did these and wants His disciples to do them. Penances like fasting, abstinence, and even avoiding sleep, that is, sacrificing your sleep and having night vigils, are things Jesus started and His disciples continued. For example, in today’s gospel – Mathew 9:15, we heard that when Jesus is gone back to heaven after the Ascension, (Jesus said when the bride groom is taken away from them), then they will fast. That is, Jesus’ disciples will fast. Therefore, fasting is not optional, but it is compulsory. God knows that we should fast and we will fast. Mathew 6:16 says “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.” Jesus did not say “if you fast…”, but He said “whenever you fast…”. This means that according to Jesus, fasting is a compulsory thing.
Why should we take voluntary suffering on ourselves or why does the Catholic church say we should take up such kinds of suffering? Why should we do penances, sacrifices, fasting and sometimes living a life of poverty? Some people go to the wilderness and lead a hermit/monk life. Some people say that Jesus suffered for us, and now is the time to enjoy.
To know why the Catholic church wants us to take up certain kinds of voluntary sufferings, we read Colossians 1:24 in which St Paul says “I am not rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”
St Paul says he is suffering in his body. This is because he was voluntarily taking up some suffering. St Paul, his disciples and the early Christians used to do fasting and penances and in Colossians 1:24, he gives us the reason why he did this. He says “I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions…” The question we might ask is, was Christ’s suffering not enough, or was it incomplete or lacking in any way or was there an element of imperfection in His suffering? The answer is that Jesus suffered perfectly and His suffering was complete. This was a perfect sacrifice that gave us salvation. But we are not able to accept it because we are lacking something inside of us. According to St Paul, there’s something that is blocking you from receiving the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ in your life. St Paul says that by going through suffering, he is doing his best to remove this block from you and the church.
Exodus 17:8 says “Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.” When the Israelites were saved from Egypt and on their way to the promised land, the first group of people that attacked them was the Amalekites. The Amalekites are the descendants of Esau. Jacob was the twin brother of Esau. The Israelites and the Amalekites were the descendants of Jacob and Esau respectively. The Amalekites were the perpetual enemies of the Israelites and were considered very cruel, and among the worst enemies of Israel. They were cruel because when the Israelites were on their way to the promised land, the Arch of the Covenant would normally go in front, carried by the priests and then followed by the Elders, Levites and others. The women, the weak, sick, old and those with heavy burdens used to come at the back. So, in the long line of procession, these people used to come in the last row. The Amalekites used to attack the Israelites from the back and not the front, thereby killing the women, children and seizing their possessions.
Deuteronomy 25:17- 18 states “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way, when you were faint and weary, and struck down all who lagged behind you; he did not fear God.”
In the Bible, Amalek is the symbol of the devil i.e., the evil one – personified evil spirit and that’s why God asked them to remove Amalekites from their communities, because it’s the symbol of the evil one. The Amalekites used to hide and pursue the Israelites and would attack the Israelites whenever they realized that the Israelites were tired and weak. For instance, when Jesus had completed His forty days of fasting, He was famished and that’s when the devil came to tempt him. So, when you are physically, emotionally and spiritually weak, that’s when the devil puts some temptations in your mind. You might experience some unexpected tragedy and suddenly, you start questioning God’s presence. You question why that happened to you despite the fact that you pray so much and go to church daily. That’s how the devil works and would tempt you when you are at your weakest point. The devil also attacks the weak link in a chain. In the case of the Amalekites, they hid themselves and waited, and attacked the women and children who were considered weak, tired and behind in the procession. That’s why it’s the duty of the strong to help the weak, otherwise, the strong will be alone at the end to fight the battle.
The Amalekites were the first to attack the Israelites as we see in Exodus 17:8 “The Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.” In all of this, we see Moses as a very powerful warrior. When he came upon an Israelite and an Egyptian fighting, he attacked and killed the Egyptian. Later, when he tried consoling two Israelites who were fighting, they revealed his secret that he killed a person. Since Moses was brought up in the palace as the son of Pharaoh, he received the training of a warrior or soldier. So, he was powerful, but he knew that in the battle with the Amalekites, it wasn’t his physical strength or the power of his body that would help, but the power of prayer. So, Moses, the warrior of warriors asked Joshua to lead the battle, while he went instead to the mountain where he would support the battle with prayer.
In Exodus 17:9, we read that “Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” The staff is the same one he used in dividing the waters of the Red sea and it’s the same staff he used to strike the rock from which water flowed out. Moses knew the staff was the sign of the presence of the miracle-working God. The staff is also the symbol of Moses’ faith and it’s as if he is saying “I will hold on to my faith.”
The people who went up the mountain were Moses, his brother Aaron and Hur, his brother-in-law. Exodus 17:10 says “So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.” They were praying for the battle that was taking place below the mountain. This is a prefiguration of Gethsemane. In Gethsemane, Jesus took people along with Him. That is, Peter, John and James. He kept them at a distance and asked them to pray for Him, while He went further away and had a battle with Amalek – the evil one. In this battle, Jesus was sweating blood, but there was no support, but he defeated the devil only with His own prayer life and said “Let Your will be done, and not my will” and he came out of Gethsemane. Brethren, the example of Moses and Aaron has so many meanings.
Exodus 17:11 states that “Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.” Moses stood on the hill with outstretched hands, while in the valley, the enemy was attacking the Israelites and the Israelites were fighting back. Whenever Joshua looked up at the hill, he saw Moses praying with outstretched hands and whenever Moses looked down, he could see that the Israelites were winning the war. But whenever Moses got tired and his hands dropped, he saw that the Israelites were being defeated. Because of this, Moses did not want to lower his hands and it gradually became unbearable and impossible to keep his hands up. Realizing this, Aaron and Hur supported Moses by holding up his hands. They made Moses sit on a rock, while they supported both of hands. They shared Moses’ pain and started helping Jesus in his suffering. Here, we have one of the secrets of the Bible revealed. Moses’ outstretched hands as he prays is a prefiguration of Jesus on Mount Calvary. That is, the prefiguration of the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus is the second Moses. Jesus was crucified on Mount Calvary so that the Israelites would win the battle and defeat the devil. So, the devil’s defeat is based on the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus knew that if He did not die on Mount Calvary, the Israelites and all humanity would be defeated. Therefore, Jesus was ready to hold out his hands and die on mount Calvary.
If you are Jesus’s follower, just like the followers of Moses – Aaron and Hur, who knew it was their duty to support the hands of Moses from both sides, then you would be ready to support Jesus. When Christians do sacrifices, mortifications, penances and accept suffering, they are doing exactly what Aaron and Hur did to Moses. It’s our duty to hold on to the hands of Jesus in this battle. It’s not because Jesus would fail or be weakened, but it’s because we love Jesus and we are part of Jesus. Also, it’s not just the battle of a single person, but it’s the battle of the head and the body. Jesus is the head and the body is the church and we all are in the battle field. Each time Moses lifted his hands and Aaron and Hur supported them, they could see that the Israelites were winning. When Jesus dies on Calvary and we His followers hold onto His hands lifting them up, you will see the miracles and wonders taking place. Every saint – Mother Mary, and all the Angels and saints are performing the same duty. Brethren, as one community, everyone is active in this battle field. Christianity in Europe and many Christian countries, has become weakened because there’s no one to support, strengthen and take the suffering in their bodies, which is blocking the healing and blessing for the human beings. St Paul said he was completing what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions for your sake (Colossians 1:24).
Brethren, we need Aaron and Hur in this world, people who are ready to take up sufferings and sacrifices. We need people to wash the face of the suffering Jesus. We need Simon of Cyrene to come and carry the cross of Jesus, which is absent now in the world. Once upon a time, we had so many religious Nuns and Monks who were ready to do sacrifices and penances in the convents and Monasteries. They would kneel down for hours, even at midnight praying for the salvation of humanity. Therefore, the church was very strong in those days and years. We had thousands of Nuns in the convents doing the same thing that Veronica did – wiping the face of Jesus, which is covered by blood. These Nuns are wiping the face of Jesus and consoling Him in His suffering by taking care of the people of God. Today, we lack Veronicas in the world, as everyone is busy running after the worldly pleasures. We lack Simon of Cyrenes and therefore, the church is becoming weakened. We are being defeated in the battle and this is where we need to look into.
By voluntarily accepting suffering, doing penances and fasting for the salvation of others, we are strengthening the salvation of our Lord Jesus, which is perfect and complete. But we do penances and other sacrifices so that the perfect sacrifice would come into our body and take control of our body. When a human does penances, there’s God’s intervention in the surrounding. Each time Moses lifted his hands, the Israelites were winning. It was as if some angels from heaven, the army of God, were coming and supporting the Israelites, when Moses’ hands were lifted, thereby defeating the Amalekites. But when Moses’ hands were lowered, the army of God could not do anything. Brethren, it’s important to do some penances, sacrifices and fasting, because when you do, you are releasing the army of God against your enemies. Each time you lift up your hands and pray, you are releasing an army of God against your enemy. You don’t need to fight because a hidden army is fighting for you. That’s why the church promotes voluntary suffering. You’ve probably heard of saints or know saints who did fasting, penances and took on voluntary suffering by lifting up their hands, kneeling, avoiding sleep at night and doing night vigil and praying, because this is very powerful. As a result of this, you would see the change. The person who kneels and prays with the hands lifted up is surrounded by power and God’s power will be manifested around such a person.
Brethren, during the Lenten period, endeavor to do some fasting, penances and take up some kind of suffering. Make some sacrifices like avoiding sleep and so on. Do this with prayer and you will see many blocks and bondages in your families being removed. You will be successful financially, in your marriage, as well as in your family relationships because the enemy, the Amalekites will not be successful against you. This is the message of the Lord.
Colossians 4:12 states “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you. He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills.”
When Joshua and the army were fighting with the Amalekites, they were not getting tired, but when Moses was lifting up his hands, he was getting tired. Brethren, which is more difficult? Fighting is not difficult, but praying is difficult. Why is this so? It is because prayer is the most powerful weapon. It was not the fighting that gave victory to the Israelites, but it was Moses’ prayer that helped them to win the battle. That’s why many times, praying becomes like a burden and becomes difficult. But when you go to a battle or carryout some physical exercise, it won’t be tiring for you and even if it were, you would do it all the same because you don’t get mentally exhausted, but you are instead rejuvenated. In this case, praying and doing the ministry of the Lord, interceding and praying for others is a real battle and a more powerful battle, than the physical battle with the swords and the spears.
Brethren, our enemy is not of flesh and blood. Our real enemies are the spiritual powers. Therefore, more than any other battle, we should take this battle very seriously – the battle of taking the Holy Rosary, doing the Stations of the Cross, fasting and all the other penances. By doing so, you are bringing and releasing the army of God against your enemies and against the evil one. That’s the only way you can win the battle.
Daniel 10:1 – 2 states that “In the third year of King Cyrus of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. The word was true, and it concerned a great conflict. He understood the word, having received understanding in the vision. At that time, I, Daniel, had been morning for three weeks.”
Daniel had been doing his fasting for almost 21 days.
What is Daniel fasting?
Daniel 10:3 states that “I had eaten no rich food, no meat or wine had entered my mouth, and I had not anointed myself at all, for the full three weeks.”
Daniel fasting involves avoiding tasty, delicious, luxurious foods and eating just simple food without much taste in it. Also, avoiding perfumes and any extra things done to the body except taking a bath. Daniel did this for twenty-one days. This is called Daniel fasting and you are most welcomed to do it if you are inspired.
Daniel 10:4 states that “On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river (that is, the Tigris),
Daniel was standing on the bank of the great river just after his fasting.
Daniel 10:5 says “I looked up and saw a man clothed in linen, with a belt of gold from Uphaz around his waist.”
Linen was normally the dress of the priests. Daniel saw a powerful man, but what else did he see?
Daniel 10:6 says “His body was like beryl, his face like lighting, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the roar of a multitude.”
Here, Daniel is having a powerful vision of probably an angel of God, because we read later that he’s an angel of God.
Daniel 10:7 says “I, Daniel, alone saw the vision; the people who were with me did not see the vision, though a great trembling fell upon them, and they fled and hid themselves.”
Only Daniel saw the vision because only Daniel did the fasting and the others did not.
Brethren, when you do fasting and prayer, the heavens will reveal itself to you and your enemies will be defeated, even those that seem very powerful in front of you. Endeavor to do fasting and some form of penances and more so during the Lenten period. For those who have been praying for a long time for say the gift of a child, job, marriage, financial breakthrough, etc., try a Daniel fast or any other type od fasting and you will see the power of God being manifested around you. The blocks will be removed and the Amalekites would be defeated. This is the promise that God is giving us.
Brethren, like you saw earlier, when Moses lifted his hands and prayed for the Israelites, and as long as his hands were stretched out, Israel was successful. On mount Calvary, you see Jesus Christ, with outstretched hands praying for you 24/7. He is interceding for you. He sits at the Father’s right hand – this means that He is sitting and interceding permanently for you. What does this mean? It means when you fail, commit sin, are defeated, Jesus begs in front of the Father, telling the Father that His children are failing and are being defeated and are committing sin. He pleads with the Father to give Him the punishment that was meant for the children and saves them, as He stretches out His hands and takes all the suffering. This is what Jesus has been doing for more than two thousand years and He will continue to do so as long as we exist. Brethren, if you really love Jesus, you will reduce His pain by standing on both sides and supporting His hands, telling Him not to suffer alone and that you are ready to suffer with Him and strengthen His hands. This is what the Catholic church is doing even today through all the suffering that we endure and accept, all the penances that we do during every Lenten season and all the Monks, missionaries and visionaries who are doing penances, as well as all the Nuns in convents who are doing penances and sacrifices. They do this so that Jesus’ hands will be strong and as such we are taking His pain. It’s not because Jesus will be weakened. But out of love for Jesus, we support voluntarily, taking some of His pain and reducing the pain, so that He will be consoled. Just like Veronica and Simon of Cyrene did on the way of the cross, let’s do it brethren, so that Jesus would be happy. When Jesus looks at you and you look at His face, when you support His hands and when you wipe His face, won’t you see a smile on His face? That is enough for us. That is the biggest consolation and blessing that we can receive – a smile on the face of Jesus in the extreme torture and pain and that’s what our missionaries and religious Nuns are doing in the orphanages, old age homes and all the holy places. Let’s continue to strengthen, support and encourage them.