the fellowship of His sufferings

by Andrea Elizabeth

For in the indissoluble union, the Word made flesh possessed the whole active power of His own divinity together with the whole passive power of His own humanity. Being God He worked wonders in a human way, for they were accomplished through naturally passible flesh. Being man He experienced the sufferings of human nature, but in a divine way, for they unfolded at the command of His sovereign will.

Ambiguum 5 – St. Maximus the Confessor

It is interesting that St. Maximus does not mention if God experienced pleasure in His human experience. Surely the food he ate didn’t taste terrible. Surely some of the sand he walked on was of a nice temperature. I don’t remember His being tempted by pleasure in the desert, despite modern retellings of Christ and Mary Magdelene, or angels falling into sin from jealousy of human experiences of pleasure. The devil tempted Christ with the freedom from suffering hunger with plain bread, not tiramisu; with the power to be spared of the dangers of gravity, not the pleasures of flying like a bird; and with universal public recognition of who he was, which could be considered freedom from suffering the humiliation of being falsely disrespected. The devil didn’t parade Salome in front of Him.

I’m tempted to think that St. Maximus and other Fathers focus on Christ’s sufferings because of some sort of hyper monastic masochistic disregard for the comforts of this life. I remember watching the video of that Anglican Vicar (don’t they call themselves preists?) who went to spend some time like St. Anthony did in the desert. While seeing the benefits, I think I remember him coming away thinking extreme asceticism wasn’t for him and wondering what was wrong with enjoying flowers and home grown tomatoes instead? So was earthly pleasure, above and beyond necessary nourishment, shelter, rest, and maybe companionship during his sufferings, just too easy for Him to avoid to really talk about? Did His experience of humble comforts not really figure into our salvation? Indeed, his focus on human experience was on suffering. The suffering of grieving friends and family, of wounded people left on the side of the road, and of people thirsting for their true home and family. He seemed to be convinced of the satisfaction found in relationship with His Father, and the folly of seeking earthly pleasure instead.

Not that earthly pleasures are enjoyed only sinfully. Are only some called to be Christ and John the Baptist-like in that way? Are the rest of us sinfully weak, or divine purposefully weak, or just optionally inclined? I don’t know. Maybe he forewent them so that we didn’t have to?

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