Bottom line: The answer to puzzle of suffering lies in Jesus alone - in his cross. Lift up Jesus! Amen.
Our parish mission statements says: "Blessed to live in this beautiful valley, we are Christians, in union with Pope Francis and Archbishop Etienne, who strive to lift up Jesus, love one another and make disciples." What does it mean to "lift up Jesus"? Well, if you were listening carefully you heard Jesus say.
"And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I will draw everyone to myself."
John notes that Jesus is referring to his death on the cross. Now, we've gotten used the cross, but in Jesus' day it represented terrible shame. The Romans used this punishment for the worst criminals: like the thieves Jesus describes in the parable of the Good Samaritan. They attacked a man, robbed him, stripped him of his clothes and threw him in a ditch to die. If the Romans caught those kinds of thieves, they would flog them, affix them to wooden beams and leave them to die an agonizing death. Ordinary people would jeer at them saying you are getting what you deserve. Now Jesus, by accepting the cross, Jesus took shame on himself. Most people would have assumed that he must have done something bad. In addition to shame the cross inflicted physical pain beyond imagining.
The Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus "offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death..." For Jesus the cross meant shame and suffering, but what does it mean for us?
For sure we can and should take our own suffering and shame to the cross. Jeremiah alludes to that. He tells the people they have been brought low because they broke the covenant. Remember God made a covenant with Noah that applies to the entire human race. And then with Moses a covenant involving the Ten Commandments. Unfortunately, we broke those covenants. Jeremiah then prophecies that God will make a new covenant by writing his law on hearts of his followers. Then: "All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more."
God forgives and reconciles us through the self-sacrificial death of Jesus. So the cross means two things: 1) The forgiveness of sins: Jesus takes our shame upon himself. 2) Suffering is not futile. It has meaning - when we take our sufferings to Jesus.
We live a world where, thanks be to God, much suffering has been alleviated. Just compare our pandemic to past plagues. You don't have to go back as far as the bubonic plagues. The more recent pandemics of 1918, 1957 and 1968 brought horrible deaths to young people and children. And they had no vaccine, not to mention Netflix, cell phones and home delivery. Bad as our pandemic has been, we can and should count our blessings.
At the same time, other afflictions have accelerated: mental suffering, depression and suicidal ideation plague many people, especially our youth.
When we lift up the cross, we say: your suffering is not meaningless. You are Jesus in agony. We want to walk with you. The truth is, every person on the planet suffers. Some more, some less. For sure we have moments of refreshment but overall life is what St. Teresa described: "a bad night in a bad inn." Even the rich and famous suffer - as we see when the curtain is pulled back on their lives.
When I was young priest, a wise man said to me, "Treat each person you meet as if he has a broken heart and you will not be wrong."
This Wednesday in Generations of Faith we focus on Wisdom literature of the Bible. Much of it treats the question of suffering. They are wonderful books - my favorites. Still, the answer to puzzle of suffering we only find in Jesus - in his cross. Lift up Jesus! Amen.
Spanish Version (Word document)
From the Archives (Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B)
Year A (RCIA):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Kurt Nagel
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru