A psychologist by the name of Lawrence Kohlberg developed a theory which demonstrated how we come to an understanding of right and wrong. His theory, based upon another famous psychologist’s work in cognitive development, broke down into six stages the steps that a child takes as it matures to adulthood and a sense of morality. The first of those stages is called “Punishment and Obedience.” It could be characterized by the catch phrase: “Might makes right.” A child at this stage of development comes to understand that if he does something which his parent has forbidden, he will be punished. Seeking to avoid the pain of punishment, the child usually conforms to the dictates of the parent who is clearly stronger or mightier than the child. Obey your parents, or these powerful authority figures will physically punish you.
As we listen to the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy and listen to Moses as he reviews the dictates of the covenant between God and the children of Israel, it is obvious that Israel is operating at this first stage of moral development. “If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy. If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy” (Deuteronomy 30:16-18). The “theology of reciprocity” is born of such thinking. Do good, and God will be good to you. Do evil, and God will abandon you. Because the Israelites did not, at this time in their history, believe in life after death, it was only natural for them to come to this understanding. A just and faithful God had to reward those who obeyed. Since they did not believe in life after death, that reward had to be bestowed in this life.
The Gospel passage for today counters that thinking with Jesus’ prediction of his passion: “He said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:22-23). If the theology of reciprocity was correct, clearly the innocent and completely obedient Jesus would not suffer. Yet that is exactly what happened. The innocent suffered for the guilty.
Jesus’ reward for obedience was his resurrection and glorification as he took his seat at God’s right hand. Those of us who unite ourselves to the sufferings of Jesus as we bear the cross of chronic illness and/or disability believe that we will also experience this reward. CUSANS seek to walk in the footsteps of our crucified Savior by our obedience to God’s will for us. While we would never deliberately seek illness or disability, our acceptance of that state in life is our vocation. By prayer and sacrifice, we continue the redemptive work of our Savior. We suffer for a purpose.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator