In the Gospel Reading, Christ is held by Pilate, who has him in his power. In the next part of the story, as we know, Christ is on the cross: poor, dishonored, in pain, and dying.
Christ’s willingness to accept these afflictions sets the standard for all Christians, and it turns all worldly standards upside down. What most people reject as the worst things in life turns out in Christ’s crucifixion to be the prize-winning goods. On the cross, Christ makes manifest that real winning is what looks to the world like losing. And vice versa too, of course. There is something small and unworthy about a life lived totally at ease.
That is why Paul says that all things work together for good for those who love God --all things (Rom. 8:28). Our sins are included in that “all things”, not just our suffering. When Paul pleaded with God to take away a particular sin of his right then, immediately, God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Cor.12:9)
But now notice in the Second Reading the very different picture of Christ and of the standard of excellence for Christ’s people.
The Second Reading shows us Christ not as poor, dishonored, and suffering but as the king of kings, the most powerful and honored of all rulers. And it shows us Christ’s people in the same way: not as afflicted with Christ-like suffering, but glorious in Christ’s kingdom. In that picture, all Christ’s people are high and honored priests for God, and they are also freed from their sins -- not some of their sins, but all of them.
So which of these two pictures – of Christ, of Christ’s people– should set the standard for us, the goal at which we aim?
The answer, of course, is “Both of them!”
There is a time for suffering, when all worldly values and all earthly desires are turned upside down, a time when we struggle with sin and suffering. But there is also a time when things turn right-side up again and all struggle ends.
At that time, each one of Christ’s people will say of every affliction, “That was then; this is now!” Only that now, when all sin and suffering falls away, is an everlasting now. And the cross is the way to it.