Join with Me in Suffering for the Gospel
2 Timothy 1:8-10
The pages of our newspapers are full of advertisements inviting readers to buy a product, subscribe to a service or enrol in a membership programme. Such ads try to present their products and services in such attractive ways that readers will find it hard to ignore or turn down. Imagine an ad for membership in your community church with the heading, “Join with Me in Suffering for the Gospel.” What impression will such an ad make on the average reader? How many readers are likely to enrol as members in such a church? Yet those are the words of the invitation that Paul extends to Timothy in today’s second reading. Why did Timothy accept such an invitation? More importantly, why should we accept it today? The simple answer is: because there is no other way to human fulfilment, which the Bible calls eternal life or salvation.
The Bible often describes human life as a choice between two ways. The two ways are described in Psalm as the way of sinners and the way of the righteous. But perhaps the most graphic description of the two ways of life is found in Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Jesus spoke of himself as the only way: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). By this he did not mean that there was absolutely no other way. What he meant was that for those who want to come to God, for those who seek eternal life and happiness, there was no other way. Obviously, for those whose destination in life was anything other than God, eternal life and happiness, there was a way, but that way only leads to eternal disappointment and death.
Jesus walked in the unpopular and unattractive narrow way of saying yes to God and no to self. He invited Paul, and Paul accepted the invitation to walk in the way of self-denial and suffering. Paul, in turn, invited Timothy, as we see in today’s reading. Timothy accepted and walked in the narrow way. All these holy men testify that the way that leads to life is not easy but in the end it was worthwhile.
Today the Church extends the same invitation to us. This invitation to evangelical suffering is certainly counter-cultural, given the growing materialism and secularism that characterise our culture today. This voice of Christ through the Church is often drowned in the cacophony of other voices, including those of other churches and Christian ministries that promise a life of pleasure, possessions and power rather than suffering. Some call it prosperity gospel, but that is a contradiction in terms since accepting the gospel means accepting that “he (God) must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30).
The fact that we may not be able to bear the cross of suffering may hinder us from answering yes to the invitation. But this fear is based on the mistaken notion that we bear the cross by dint of our own human ability alone. That is not correct. We are called to bear the cross of God by the strength that comes from God. This divine empowerment in us is what we call grace. As Paul tells us in the reading, “Join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:8-9).
With the assurance of divine grace to help us, let us throw all hesitation aside. Let us resolve today to walk in the narrow way, the way of the cross, the way that leads to life. As we devotionally walk the Way of the Cross every Friday of Lent, let us resolve to practically walk the same way of the cross every day during this Lenten season and, indeed, every day of our lives.
Fr. Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp