Suffering is quite naturally the least appealing part of human experience. Suffering isn’t just pain, it isn’t just a physical experience, it isn’t just sadness. Suffering applies to every way we are deprived of what is good. Sin is suffering because by choosing what seems to be good over what is really good, we deprive ourselves. Jesus takes all forms of human suffering upon Himself so that we may never find ourselves alone when we suffer. Jesus even takes upon Himself the suffering due to sin – though He Himself never sinned. He allowed Himself to be condemned and punished as a criminal, as a sacrifice – the Innocent One – so that we sinners might find refuge in Him. The One who was without sin became sin so that He might destroy it once and for all in His flesh. His body, broken on the Cross, is the image of our broken soul – broken by sin and suffering. The divinity of Christ – a sure support and powerful force of healing – carries the brokenness and weakness of Christ’s flesh all the way through His death to the Resurrection.
Jesus gives us fairly straightforward criteria for discerning good and evil. Many times, when what is evil takes the form of dogs or pigs we can recognize it a mile away. Capital sins are supposed to be of that sort: murder, fornication, deception, etc. Sometimes evil takes the appearance of sheep though. They are wolves hiding in sheep’s clothing when what they say delights or entices but leads to sin. This is the most pernicious attack of the enemy, because we are in some ways fooled and consent to evil while we were unable to grasp the necessary relationship between what seems to be good and its evil consequences. We see this in gossip: sometimes what starts as simply giving people updates turns into complaining about others, or spreading rumors about what others have said or done. We see it in murder: sometimes what starts as taking a stand against apparent injustice ends in the death of another. We see it in fornication: what starts as pleasant affection ends in the act reserved for marriage. We see it in greed: what starts as working to have enough turns into getting as much as possible by any means necessary. The key to identifying the wolf is trying to see where what seems to be good actually leads.
I’ve often heard the reason Jesus named James and John “Sons of Thunder” as having to do with their asking Him to send down fire from heaven to consume the town of unbelievers. I thought it was a humbling compliment, but one they deserved – a light but poignant way to emphasize that though occasionally misplaced, their fervor was remarkable. I was delighted to read in Bede the Venerable’s commentary today a slightly different take. The Sons of Thunder were so named because they heard the voice of the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration. The voice of the Father like thunder, their hearts moved definitively from the static complacency of a life that sees its completion on earth. We can perceive that John’s life was intensely altered by the Word made flesh, the Lamb of God, the Beloved Son, Jesus. John’s conversion to Jesus comes from a Word and a Voice that deeply uprooted his heart. I wonder if the fervor of the first Apostle to be martyred, James, wasn’t like the echo of the heartbeat of his brother John. John’s fervor was so contagious he clearly infected both St. Peter and St. Paul. Perhaps we could say that John loved his brother James so much that Jesus couldn’t refuse James the same graces as his brother.