A Sign of Contradiction

A Reflection on the Readings for the Feast of St. James (2 Cor 4:7-15 & MT 20:20-28)

I recently went on a Mission Trip/Retreat centered on poverty.  It was an eye opening experience that challenged my presumptions and forced me to encounter people, not stereotypes.  It was one of the most formative experiences I’ve had in a long time.  While on this trip, I found one thing perplexing and striking.  So many of the people I spoke to who were experiencing material poverty had rich faith lives and, in many cases, a genuine sense of joy.  This same confusion I felt encountering these people, their faith, and their joy is the same confusion that Paul is describing in Corinthians.  Here is what He writes,

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.

Paul is calling us, as Christians, to be signs of contradiction.  Our lives should make others scratch their heads.

I recalled the people I met as I read these words and found myself discouraged by how much my life makes sense to someone looking in from a non-Christian perspective.  What I mean by that is that Paul’s words make sense only when viewed through the interpretive lens of Jesus Christ.

Christ freed us through His own affliction.  He gave us hope by taking on the uncertainty of human existence.  He was in the greatest solidarity with the least of us when He was persecuted.  The victory He shares with us was achieved by being struck down.  Our lives should be confusing because we attach ourselves to a beaten and bloodied criminal upon a cross with the certainty and conviction that Easter Sunday does not happen without Good Friday.

However, there are times, because of pride or a desire for ease and comfort, that we don’t want our lives to be confusing to non-Christian eyes.  It is at those times that Christ asks us what he asked St. James in today’s gospel, “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”   With the help of grace, I hope our response can be, “Only because you already did.”

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