There is an interesting difference between our first reading and our second reading today. Both readings present an essentially true aspect of the Christian life, but they seem to be in total disagreement. First, St. Paul says to the disciples “it is necessary to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” In the second reading we hear what that kingdom will look like: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, there shall be no more mourning, wailing, or pain.” So here is the discrepancy: on the one hand, Paul says there will be hardship and pain in the Christian life, but then we hear in Revelation that God is taking away all our pain and hardship. Both are absolutely true, but they seem to contradict each other.
There are a couple of ways we can understand this tension. First, we can say that Paul is referring to the life we live in the here and now. Being a disciple of Jesus means that while we are not to be of the world, we do live in the world. As a result, we will see our fair share of pain and suffering. The quicker we recognize this, the better off we will be, because if we acknowledge that there will be pain and suffering in this life, we will be ready for it. Then, we will interpret the message in our second reading as referring the next life. While we experience pain, sadness, grief, suffering, and persecution in this life, we are destined for a better place. We are destined to spend eternity with God, and when we get to that place, God will wipe away every tear, destroying pain and sadness. And, this is true too. We believe in the resurrection, we believe that there is a full and new life in store for those who believe in Christ.
So, to summarize, these readings are in tension but we explain it like this: St. Paul reminds us that in this life there will be hardships and pain, but we all look forward to that day when we experience the new life of the resurrection, where pain and suffering are destroyed forever.
This is a totally legitimate way to understand these readings. But, I would offer one brief suggestion. I think, all too often, we can think of the kingdom of God as being only a future oriented reality. So, our life of faith can seem like a holding pattern. We understand that this life is full of pain and misery, but if we can just hold on, we will make it to heaven. Or another way, life is full of temptation toward sin, but if we can just dodge the potholes, we will make it to heaven. And rather than truly living and embracing life in communion with God in the here and now, Christian living becomes a matter of dodging sin and waiting for the day when we will have a relationship with God. Rather, while we will only experience the fullness of the kingdom of God in the resurrection, we live that kingdom even now. While we will never be completely rid of pain and suffering, trial and temptation, God can and does wipe away our tears even now. Even now, by God’s grace, pain, suffering, and persecution can be transformed into the pathway of our salvation. In the gospel, Jesus tells us how to do this.
Love one another, as I have loved you. Love has the ability to overcome pain and hardship. Love can turn hate, into friendship. Love can turn mourning, into acceptance. Love can turn selfishness, into service. A heart full of love can bear all things, while a heart without love sees everything as an imposition. Now, love is not easy. It killed Jesus. But, in the very death and resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate during this season of Easter we see the tension of our two readings very clearly: on the cross Jesus suffered and died, but through the cross he came to the resurrection. This transformation takes place because of love. The good news of the gospel is that this transformation can take place in our lives as well if we follow the command of Jesus: love one another as I have loved you.