Posted on April 26th, 2015
“A mother to become a mother passes through pain.” These words of St. John Chrysostom summarizes motherhood, and also the entire Christian life. “A mother to become a mother passes through pain.” Joy is on the other side of pain, and the joy cannot come except through pain. This is no abstract principle: In explaining His coming crucifixion (Jubilate Gospel, John 16:16-22), our Lord uses the example of a mother’s pain in childbearing to show the necessity of His suffering on the cross, but also to give them the hope that the resurrection will shortly follow.
What is Jesus doing? Jesus uses the parable of mother and son to show how the lives are connected, and how one will endure suffering for the benefit of another. Jesus joins His suffering to theirs, and His joy to theirs. The same is true for you: He invites you to bring your own pain, your own suffering, your own battle with sin and sorrow, to Him. He endures your pain, and will give to you the joy of His resurrection.
He also compares childbirth to the coming joy in this way: in the day of resurrection, the former sorrows will not even be remembered – they will fade as a bad dream is forgotten in the light of day. “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”
By connecting the sufferings a Christian is called to bear to childbirth, Jesus is teaching us that suffering has a purpose, it’s connected to an end, a goal. Pain by itself is bad; but the pain of childbearing brings the good of human life. In the same way, all of your afflictions, all of your hardships, are a good thing when they bring about something good. What good can come from your sufferings, your troubles? The Psalmist says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes” (Ps. 119.71). And again, “Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord” (Ps. 94.12). All of your sufferings are God working on you, to mold you and shape you into a person who has learned His Word, His Commandments, His patience and His love.
So the man of God is told, “Child, if you would come to serve the Lord, prepare your soul for testing” (Sir. 2.1, translation mine). God continually tells us in His Word that testing is useful for us, so that we grow as children of God and learn to depend completely, utterly on the grace and mercy of God.
But in the midst of all your tribulation, Jesus gives to His disciples and to you this firm declaration: “Do not give up hope.” Why? “I will return.” “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” From our vantage-point in time, we can see a double-meaning in this. He returned from death on Easter, and He will return on the Day of Resurrection.
In all things, Jesus points us beyond both the joys and sorrows of this world to something eternally more important: His return and the coming kingdom of God.
All this calls us to reevaluate our life’s priorities.
If you have money, it may be taken by theft, taxes, bad investment, or bad fortune.
If you have power, you will find many who resent it and become your enemies.
If you have beauty, time will take it.
If you have strength, injury or sickness can snatch it from you.
No matter what you do, someone will complain.
The people you love will die, the food you crave will become tasteless, the sounds you love will be silenced, even the memories you cherish will fade from your mind.
And to all these things, Jesus says something disconcerting: “Yes. That’s how it will be. You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”
If you want your best life now, you have the wrong Jesus.
If you want to become a better you, you have the wrong Jesus.
If you want something to give you hope for this life only, you have the wrong Jesus.
Our Lord promises that you will have tribulation in this world. You get a cross, you get a discipline, you get a drowning.
But with that you also get a joy that no one can take. You get the resurrection, you get sins forgiven, you get life in God’s kingdom.
We don’t merely soldier on, stoically enduring, hoping things one day will be better. Jesus is risen from the dead, and that’s the sure and certain pledge that God is going to make all things new—all things, new heavens and a new earth, new bodies, new hearts free of anxiety and anger, lust and sorrow. The resurrection of Jesus is our joy, and the joy of the Lord is our strength.
You may have lost children.
You may not have been able to have children.
You may have children who rebelled and turned away.
You may live in a prison of fear and tyranny, a loveless home, a thankless job.
You may have a body full of pain, a mind full of fear and uncertainty.
You may struggle with sin deeply, sins you commit and sins committed against you.
But to every one of you, the LORD repeats His promise: “You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.”