Today’s Gospel paints what seems to be a pretty bleak picture of discipleship. If you follow Jesus, he promises that everyone will hate you and you’ll be killed. Rather than happy days without end, Jesus promises his followers suffering and trials. As we come to the end of our liturgical year, we should see these sufferings not as a destructive force, but rather as a purifying fire.
We tend to look at a forest fire and immediately want to put it out. Yet, sometimes a fire is exactly what the forest needs to be healthy. The fire burns up all the dead wood and debris and all the undesirable plants and trees. In the process seeds are released for new trees. The fire actually rejuvenates the forest even as it seemingly destroys. God’s love for us is a lot like this. He is a purifying fire that wants to burn up all the selfishness and sin that threatens to choke out the beautiful forest of his grace.
At the end of the Gospel Jesus reminds us that, in the face of all the suffering and trials, there is one thing we must do…persevere. The Greek work for perseverance (hypomone) implies patiently baring with difficulty, holding out until the end. Yet it also has a second meaning. It also means waiting expectantly, longing, hoping. We don’t just bear the difficulties of life with no purpose. They point us forward to a time when there will be no more suffering. We need a longing for the coming of that day.
The prophet Malachi in the first reading speaks of the coming of this day. There will be fire like an oven, but for those who love God he tells us that the “sun of justice” will comfort us with his “healing rays.” As we go through the difficulties of this life we’ve got to have our eyes fixed on the east, awaiting the rising of the sun of justice. This is the day of the coming of our king that will end all the suffering in his healing rays and bring about a new heavens and a new earth. We celebrate his feast next week with the Solemnity of Christ the King.
Until then, our task is clear. Hypomone…perseverance…enduring and longing. “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”