Why Did Jesus Have to Suffer?
Updated: Apr 18, 2019
As we approach Holy Week, my thoughts go to a passage in Luke’s Gospel which is one of the alternate readings for Easter Sunday [Luke 24:13-35]. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus said to the two disciples, “Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” [Luke 24:26]. Jesus’ suffering was necessary! Why? The answer to that question gives a whole new meaning to our own suffering.
Christianity sees suffering much differently than
do other world religions.
Suffering, or undergoing pain, distress or great hardship, whether physical, mental or spiritual, is a part of all of our human existence. But, Christianity sees suffering much differently than do other world religions. For some, such as many Hindus, suffering is believed to be a natural consequence of their bad behavior. In Buddhist spirituality, liberation from suffering is a central achievement. In Islam, suffering is seen as a test of one’s faith. To the Baha’i, suffering is a natural manifestation of the physical world. Still others hold that suffering is God’s punishment for one’s sins, so sufferers are to be shunned. And, some see this “punishment” as most unjust, lamenting “Why is God doing this to me; I don’t deserve this?” But, regardless of the why of suffering, the world sees suffering as something to be avoided or suppressed by whatever means possible. 1
Suffering comes with a powerlessness that
sometimes seems overwhelming.
Yet, we are drawn back to Jesus’ words that His suffering was necessary. How then are we to understand our own suffering? Why do some suffer so much more than others? Anyone who has suffered, and most of us have at some point, will readily recognize that suffering comes with a powerlessness that sometimes seems overwhelming. Clearly, suffering is not something we imagine; we can’t will it away. We try various remedies to relieve it but, in the end, suffering is endured as best we can. Powerlessness is the common element in all suffering.
The ultimate powerlessness is to suffer
unto death at the hands of others.
The ultimate powerlessness is to suffer unto death at the hands of others. By His plan, God came into the world, in the person of Jesus Christ, to willingly accept that ultimate powerlessness. 2 The Creator of the universe accepted that ultimate powerlessness at the hands of His creatures to show, in the most gripping manner possible, how much He loves us. Suffering was the path to Jesus’ glory, the redemption of all mankind from their sins.
Sin so fractures our relationship with God that it is beyond the ability of our fallen nature to adequately repair it. Only God can fully restore the relationship. It was God’s plan that, in one of the world’s most corrupt and violent times, He would enter the world and restore the relationship between Himself and His people by submitting to the ultimate powerlessness at their hands [cf. Galatians 4:4]. It is a mystery, not something to be solved but something to be cherished, why God chose such a means, But He did [cf. John 3:16].
It was necessary for Jesus to suffer accepting the ultimate powerlessness for the sake of redeeming mankind.
By God’s plan of redemption, it was necessary for Jesus, the Messiah, to suffer accepting the ultimate powerlessness for the sake of redeeming mankind. And, in our being the Body of Christ in the world, our suffering, our accepting and enduring such powerlessness, is one with Him in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world [1 John 2;2]. That is the redemptive power of suffering. 3 Many of our greatest saints suffered, some for much of their lives. One who many of us saw publicly bearing with suffering was Pope St. John Paul II who beautifully described, in an apostolic letter, the blessings in joining one’s suffering with Christ’s act of “saving the world:”
Before all else, Christ says: "Follow me! Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my Cross.” Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the Cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him. He does not discover this meaning at his own human level, but at the level of the suffering of Christ. 4
This does not mean that Christians seek suffering or refuse to take steps to alleviate it. Of course not. Suffering can be very debilitating. But Christians accept suffering and strive to bear it in the way of Christ; we “offer up” our powerlessness to be one with Him. And, some are called upon to bear much more suffering than are others; and we don’t comprehend why. We just hold to the conviction that God will not give us more than we can handle [cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13].
In the grip of great pain, it’s very hard to see
blessings in suffering; but they are there.
My heart goes out especially to those who suffer greatly; and I realize that they may find it very difficult to embrace that their suffering joins them in a mystical way with the Passion of Christ. In the grip of great pain, it’s very hard to see blessings in suffering; but they are there [1 Peter 5:10].
I have had very little suffering in my own personal life, so far, except for a large kidney stone a few years ago. But I suspect that I may be called upon, at some point in the future, to suffer perhaps greatly. I pray that I will remember and hold fast to what I so freely say now about suffering.
Have a blessed Holy Week.
“Till next time.
Deacon Bob Evans
April 11, 2019
1 J. A. Amato, et. al., Victims and Values, a History and Theory of Suffering, 1990.
2 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994. #599.
3 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994. #1505.
4 Pope St. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris, Feb 11, 1984, #26.