St. Peter speaks this week about suffering for being a Christian, namely for carrying that name of Christian. At this time, being called a Christian usually wasn’t going to be a positive thing, and it certainly wasn’t something neutral like it is today. It was always going to be a label that meant something very important, whether good or bad, relating to the person who called you a Christian.
Of course, this could be a very positive thing, if it was coming from a fellow Christian. It would be a sign of common ground, even common struggle. It also brought confusion to non-Christians when the label was embraced, and eventually used by Christians to describe themselves.
This is precisely what St. Peter is getting at today, which non-believers couldn’t (and still don’t) understand. How is it that when a group was ridiculed with a name, they embraced it? Even though it meant that they were being taunted, they didn’t seem to care. This was because the meaning behind the name Christian was the same no matter who said it, but the deeper understanding of that meaning was completely opposite between believers and non-believers.
Christians were called Christians because they followed Christ, and this was meant to ridicule them for following their leader who was humiliated and killed. We embraced the name because we see it quite differently. Not only do we know that Christ rose and ascended to Heaven, we also know that His suffering and death is what continues to pay our own ransom. We embrace the notion of suffering (even though it is hard to do when it arrives), because we can unite that suffering to Christ’s own suffering. In doing so, we are, in some small way, participating in Christ’s life.
This is why we embrace using the Cross as our symbol. Again, it seems backwards to non-believers, and can only be partially understood without faith. We even embrace images of Christ on the Cross, the suffering and pain He endured for us. This is a recognition of the Salvation He won for us through that suffering and death, and also a bit of a rallying cry as well. Just as early Christians embraced the label of Christian, so also we embrace the true meaning behind it, one who follows Christ even in His suffering. We celebrate this, even though it may still seem strange to non-believers, because the suffering and death of Christ is the most powerful statement to others, and reminder to ourselves, of the depth of God’s love for us.
So, in what way do you embrace suffering in your life? While no one should go out looking for it, it doesn’t have to be dreaded. When suffering must be ours, in whatever form it may take, let us all find a way to unite it to Christ’s own suffering, and so call ourselves more truly Christian.