God may not be the cause of suffering, but God sure does teach out of it. The mystics of our faith have always said that the two great pathways to God are love and suffering. Both of which are the heart of the passion and resurrection of Christ.
In the tenth chapter of John, Jesus describes himself as the gate of the sheepfold (John 10:9). Sheepfolds were a community infostructure to provide safety to the many flocks that supported a community. Shepherds would bring their flocks in to share the security of a village's sheepfold by night and lead them out to pasture by day.
Jesus identifies himself as the gate of this community infostructure, not the shepherd (yet), not the one who opens the gate, but the gate itself. The gate is the interface between the safety of the sheepfold and the harshness of the world.
Jesus, having grown up in a rural town, would have been very familiar with the sheepfold. He knew that the sheep would not survive if they were to live out their lives in the security of the pen. To thrive, they needed to be led into the harshness of the landscape around them.
We are no different. We need to be exposed to the harshness and unfairness of life to learn and grow. Without it, we cannot comprehend that compassion, love, vulnerability and hope are a part of the fabric of being human. Without being endangered, we cannot understand or have empathy with suffering.
Jesus, as the gate, is the nexus between the realities of this life we share and the peace of salvation. We enter into the salvation of the sheepfold through this gate we call Christ, but he is also the one what leads us out as the shepherd to encounter the unfairness of this world. He does this by entering into suffering himself on the cross. By surrendering to the suffering.
We want to run from it, blame someone else for it, hold a grudge against it, pin it on God. But Jesus leads us to surrender to it. To learn from it. To have empathy with it.
Fr Thomas Keating OCSO, a Cistercian monk worth looking up, challenged himself and his students with a prayer of letting go. Or more poignantly, welcoming whatever happens and surrounding control.
Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions. I let go of my desire for power and control. I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. I let go of my desire for survival and security. I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself. I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen
Surrender then becomes the gate. In surrender, we find Christ.