Perfected Through Suffering
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 21, 2022
“…for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son or daughter he acknowledges. So endure your trials as ‘discipline’; God treats you as his sons. At the time, all discipline seems a cause for pain and not for joy, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness in those trained by it.”
from Hebrews 12:5-13
Sometimes the things that God permits in our lives can seem like we are being scourged; we feel we don't deserve it. Yet scripture tells us that unless God disciplines us, we are not sons or daughters of God. It is easy to forget that we are in training while we live on earth, or that paradise cannot be truly found here, no matter how much power, health and wealth we have. Whether our lives at the moment are filled with much happiness or great suffering, this too will pass, for everything on earth lasts only for a time. Life is a series of trials and difficulties intermixed with joy, and this is intended for spiritual growth. God has all this in hand though it does not always seem so. God will not leave us in our trials.
The more we accept God's plan for our life, the more fruitful our life can be. What may seem like terrible suffering at the beginning, according to the letter to the Hebrews, God will work later into great fruits of righteousness if we submit to the plan the Holy Spirit has prepared for us. Hebrews notes that while discipline seems at first not a cause for joy, but for pain, yet paradoxically it later brings righteousness and good fruitfulness.
Most of us don't usually appreciate being disciplined by God, at least not at first! I once read a story about a young man who credited his great success at 27 years old to the fact that his parents were forced to discipline him by cutting off his financial assistance when he was 18. I don't know what caused them to do this, but he said that while he resented it at the time it was the source of his success later on. He now thanks his parents profusely for this “tough love”!
In our own trials, it can sometimes seem that God has cut us off or does not care somehow, but the whole idea of it is so that we will grow in an area we never would have without the trial which came first. This reminds us of last week’s second reading (Hebrews 12:1-4) which used the image of a runner who perseveres in the race, heedless of the suffering, because he has his eye on the prize, Christ Jesus!
When faced with many trials or a difficult decision, a good question to ask oneself would be what good things will never be unless I am willing to suffer a little bit now? Sometimes it is as simple as a bad habit or sin to be overcome, or as tough as a sacrifice one must make for a loved one. We saw this in the sufferings and sacrifices we made together to build a new church. Even in the loss of a loved one, one of the most difficult things God can ask of us, there is the hoped joy of a reunion at the end of our lives, when all will be explained.