It is interesting to me that I have been reading this book along with another book that I received for Christmas about the life of St. Francis of Assisi. In that latter book, written by Nikos Kazantzakas, St. Francis is depicted as finding great joy in persecution and suffering because he felt that it was God's way of purifying him like gold. As "Francis" was burned away, it made more room for God to fill him. For this reason, he welcomed stonings, beatings, insults, and the like because it gave him the chance to live out the love of Christ, "loving his enemies and praying for those that persecuted him" (see Matthew 5:39-42).
This is nothing new. The early followers of Jesus could identify with the suffering Christ. In the midst of their own suffering, it was a pleasure to know that they served a Savior who understood what they were going through and could identify with their struggle. They even went so far as to rejoice in this this persecution. Writing to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote,
"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." (2 Corinthians 4:8-11)
Suffering became the means through which one knew that they were a part of what Christ was doing in the world. For those in the midst of suffering, this perspective was able to help them look beyond the present to the future that God had in store for them. It helped to provide a context, a reason for their suffering and a hope for the other side. In suffering they were becoming like Christ.
It begs the question, though: what about those of us who don't suffer? What about those who are relatively healthy, don't experience persecution, live middle-class lives of relative comfort? How do we identify with Christ? How do we make the death of Christ a reality in our bodies so that the life of Christ may also become a reality?
What do you think?