Doing Good, Following in the Footsteps of Jesus
User’s Guide to Sunday, May 3
Sunday, May 3, is the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Mass readings: Acts 2:14, 36-41; Psalm 23:1-6; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10.
When I was 16 years old, I got my first job bagging groceries at a local supermarket. I recall feeling a great deal of excitement and pride in joining the gainfully employed, particularly because it was for the purpose of earning money for college. Whatever negatives my first job may have carried with it, it was a positive experience overall, since it quickly taught me the value of work, and, in some small way, it presented me with an opportunity to follow my father’s example of hard work in providing for his family.
This is analogous to the Christian experience of suffering that St. Peter describes in today’s first reading when he says that in his suffering, Christ left an example “that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus Christ taught his disciples, and everyone who would come after, what it means to suffer patiently, which as Peter explains, is “a grace before God” (1 Peter 2:20). As Peter intimates, there are two lessons that we ought to observe from Our Lord’s example of suffering: first, this suffering comes while one seeks to do good, and sometimes it is even perpetrated by those for whom the good is done; and, second, this suffering is not a contingency that only the unlucky must deal with — rather, it is a vocation to which all believers have been called (1 Peter 2:21). Regarding the first lesson, it is important to recall that Christ suffered while achieving the highest good possible for us: our salvation. Jesus Christ bore the ignominy of oppression, insult and a criminal’s death, while striving to provide the very people persecuting and sinning against him with the perfect good of everlasting life with God in heaven. As for the second lesson, it is a perennial temptation, extending back to the first generation of disciples, to think that discipleship somehow exempts one from suffering. Yet, time and again, Christ speaks of suffering for the sake of the Gospel not only as a possibility for his disciples but also as a certainty (e.g., John 15:18-25; Matthew 5:11; 16:24-25). Moreover, were we to avoid bearing sufferings patiently, our relationship with Christ would be diminished, since we would be depriving ourselves of a shared human experience with him, which itself becomes the foundation for a sacramental, mystical connection that has redemptive value since it becomes a source of grace.
In the first reading today, although Peter has in mind primarily suffering that is caused by other human beings, it is possible to transpose his message to our experience of suffering in general. The way that we accept the suffering that is part and parcel of this world even while trying to strive to do good is a way that we both experience a connection with Christ and witness to his Gospel.
We are not required to accept suffering in a fatalistic manner that rejects any mitigation of it; it is not necessary for us, for example, to spurn the blessings of modern medicine or humanitarian aid.
Yet we must recognize that even after striving for the good of our neighbor and ourselves, there will still be suffering to contend with.
It is that suffering — whether in the form of disease, natural disaster or moral evil — that we must bear patiently while doing good, thereby following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Dominican Father Jordan Schmidt is an instructor
in sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Faculty of the
Immaculate Conception at the
Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.