Fourth in Lenten Series
RE-READING “The Passion and the Cross” (Franciscan Media, 2015) by Father Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I., I find that insights into the Christian mystery seem to leap off the page at me. Reflecting on this book and writing this Lenten series has been a grace in my life. If the series moves readers to pick up Father Rolheiser’s book, then I will judge the series a success.
As a priest, I have often found people expressing surprise that suffering has entered their lives. Those individuals seem to think that the suffering most other people experience will not be part of their lives because of their commitment to God.
Certainly, I am not judging anyone, but I have the impression that people who think their commitment to God will mean that they will not have to experience suffering, do not take the suffering of Jesus seriously. Believing that Jesus was divine, they may think that His suffering was not real, that He was almost play acting. That view gets close to denying the humanity of Jesus. The Christian belief is that Jesus really suffered and really died. God the Father did not preserve Jesus from suffering. He did not rescue Jesus from suffering.
However, He did redeem Jesus’ suffering. Father Rolheiser’s comments on the difference between rescuing and redeeming are both provocative and profound. It is a difference that I suspect many of us still have to learn. He writes:
“… Jesus never promised us rescue, exemption, immunity from cancer, or escape from death. Rather, he promised that, in the end, there will be redemption, vindication, immunity from suffering, and eternal life. But that’s in the end; in the meantime, in the early and intermediate chapters of our lives, there will be the same kinds of humiliation, pain and death that everyone else suffers.
“The cross and resurrection of Jesus reveal a redeeming, not a rescuing, God.”
In stressing the difference between rescuing and redeeming, Father Rolheiser refers to both the death of Lazarus and the death of Jesus. Knowing that Jesus loved Lazarus, the man’s sisters, Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus that their brother was ill, probably expecting Jesus would come and cure him. Jesus did not rescue Lazarus from death, but he did eventually redeem him by raising him from the dead.
The perfect illustration that God redeems rather than rescues is the death and resurrection of Jesus. To appreciate that God does not rescue, we have to take Jesus’ suffering and death seriously. We must not slip into the erroneous view that Jesus was just play acting. Jesus experienced real pain from the nails and terrible abandonment when His friends left Him.
Father Rolheiser writes: “… God is not a God who ordinarily rescues us but rather is a God who redeems us. God doesn’t ordinarily intervene to save us from humiliation, pain, and death; rather he redeems humiliation, pain, and death after the fact.”
The fact that God does not ordinarily rescue us should not discourage us, nor lead us to think that God is not involved in our lives. Nor should it lead us to stop praying. Rather, it should remind us that every prayer has within it the hope that God’s will be done.
I don’t believe that we can improve on the way that God relates to us. No prayers – even prayers that ask God to rescue us – go unheard. Also there are no unanswered prayers. Probably all us have had the experience of not having our prayers answered the way we wanted them answered, but I believe every prayer is answered better than what we are requesting from God.
God is all “Yes” to us. God cannot refuse us. God’s response to us cannot be only a “no.” The love that God has for us makes it impossible for God to not respond positively to us. If our prayers are joined to our love for God, then we grow closer to God through our prayers. We may not receive the better job, or the larger home, or the raise in pay, but we do receive God through our prayers and God is the greatest gift of all.
Having read Father Rolheiser’s wonderful book, I hope that in the future, whenever I pray, I will always be aware that God’s greatest gift is God’s redeeming love.