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I want to see Him suffer Print
Guest column
Thursday, Apr. 05, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Stop me if you’ve heard this one already. On one unfortunate day, the art teacher, the science teacher, and the development director of a prestigious Catholic high school all died and found themselves standing before the gates of heaven in front of a less than pleased St. Peter.

The frowning apostle said to them, “It is no secret up here that the three of you never got along on earth and constantly quarreled amongst yourselves. So, in order to get into heaven, you must complete one final test. You must all agree which moment in the life of Christ you would like to see first-hand, and it will be granted to you.”

The three cringed at the thought of having to even talk to one another but agreed they all considered themselves lucky to get a shot at the big staff lounge in the sky. They set about discussing the matter and came back to St. Peter with an unanimous decision that they would like to see the birth of Christ.

Suddenly, there they were, in first century Palestine, witnessing this most sacred event. Immediately, the art teacher, realizing that the lighting was just right, pulled out a brush and paint to set about depicting the scene.

In that same instant, the science teacher gazed heavenward to see the star that rested over Bethlehem that night and pulled out a telescope to calculate its velocity and astronomical orbit.

But, before the art teacher could prepare paints and before the science teacher could calibrate instruments, the development director shoved both of them to the side and walked right up to St. Joseph. Reaching into his suit coat pocket, he pulled out a school brochure and asked, “Excuse me, sir, have you decided where you would like to send your son to school?”

What would you choose?

This joke always makes me wonder what event in the life of Christ I would most like to see, given the opportunity.

In my earlier years, I wanted to see the great nature miracles, such as the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the calming of the storm, or the walking on the waves. Yet, as I slowly mature in my faith, there is one event that I most desire to see, the Crucifixion.

Why this event? Besides the fact that it is the central and most important moment in human history, the real reason is that I have not yet learned how to suffer gracefully, that is, in a way that cooperates with God’s grace.

Two of the major themes in the Gospel of Mark are what scholars call the question of identity and the question of discipleship, and the two are intrinsically bound. Simply put, St. Mark wants his readers to be asking, who is this Jesus of Nazareth and what does it mean to follow him?

Though the disciples saw Jesus perform many great miracles, it really is not until his death on the cross that both questions are fully answered. Yet, they are answered not by one of the disciples as you may expect, but by the most unlikely of figures, the centurion standing at the foot of the cross.

St. Mark tells us that after having witnessed the way in which Jesus suffered this most gruesome death, the centurion cried out, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39). It is in seeing how Jesus suffered that the centurion could finally see his true identity, as the Son of God, and therefore understand what it means to be a disciple, that one must “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 8:35).

I was recently given the opportunity to suffer, and to be honest, I was not suffering as a true disciple of Christ. No one would have looked up at me on the cross and proclaimed, “Truly this man was a disciple of Christ!”

As I began to do an examination of conscience, I pictured myself there, on the hill of Calvary, on my cross next to Christ. Would anyone around even recognize that Jesus and I even knew each other? Or, is the way in which I suffer so profoundly distant from the way in which Christ suffered, that any passerby would conclude that he and I had nothing in common?

If I were there being crucified, what would I say in that moment? Would I publicly acknowledge my wrongdoing and profess my faith in Christ as the good thief did?

Types of sufferers

Based on recent experience, I have compiled a list of the top 10 types of sufferers I would have been had I been on Calvary. Perhaps you can identify with some of them.

The Whiny Sufferer — “Jeessuuss . . . this is really painful and not at all what I was expecting when I decided to start following you. Can’t you help me out a little?”

The Denying Sufferer — “Jesus, this is totally unfair. I have never done anything wrong in my entire life to deserve this kind of treatment. I’m completely innocent I tell you.”

The Doubting Sufferer — “Jesus? Can you hear me? Are you even there? Have you abandoned me in this moment of trial? What happened to that whole footprints in the sand thing?”

The Wimpy Sufferer — “Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch. Is it over yet? Ouch, ouch, ouch . . . ”

The Still on Trial Sufferer — “In summary, it is clear from exhibits A through X that I have been unjustly punished for a crime I did not commit, and therefore I expect a full pardon for such slanderous accusations and mistreatment.”

The Justifying Sufferer — “C’mon, are you really going to crucify me for this? You should have seen what she did to me! I would never have said those things about her if she never had been so cruel in the first place. If anyone should be up here, she should.”

The Self-Pitying Sufferer —“Yes, it is me, up on the cross again, as usual. No, no, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. Nothing to see here, just me, up on the cross again.”

The Self-Consumed Sufferer — “Jesus, seriously, I really don’t have time to talk to you right now. Can’t you see I’m suffering here?”

The Vengeful Sufferer – “Laughing now, are ya? You just wait until I get down from here, and then I am going to turn the tables. Yes, plans are already forming in my mind, incredibly destructive plans of sheer evil genius.”

The Misery Loves Company Sufferer — “Listen, if I have to suffer, then I can give you a list of at least 15 other people who should have to suffer with me. I’ve even taken the liberty of underlining the names of those I think most deserve it.”

As you can see, I have a long way to go on the path to discipleship. This is why I long to see with the eyes of the centurion that moment in the life of Christ. I want to see the silent fortitude and determination with which He responded to those mocking and taunting him.

I want to see the tenderness and love with which he gazed upon his blessed mother witnessing the suffering and death of her son. I want to see the trust and hope with which he handed his spirit over to the Father.

And, I want to see the compassion and sincerity of our Lord when he uttered those divine words: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Perhaps then I will finally be able to imitate Him of whom I call myself a follower. Yes, when I die, I want to see Him suffer.