In our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah we have the story of someone who has been faithful to the Lord and who has seemingly been punished for his fidelity by the very people he wanted to help. Isaiah suggests that God is okay with his suffering/allows this suffering because it leads to life – for him and for the people. His suffering will not be the end of the story, however. He will be given a place with the great ones and he will be rewarded for his self-surrender, his desire to help and for his obedience to God.
In the story of the Passion as told by John we hear about the last hours of the life of Jesus, his suffering, his choices, his care for his mother, his surrender and his burial. The Gospel story of the Passion shows a Jesus who is persecuted but who embraces that persecution with courage and strength and an abiding confidence that God is in control of all things.
In our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews the reality of Christ’s teaching, his life, his suffering and his death is talked about in clear language.
So how do these readings connect with us as we struggle to cope with COVID-19?
There is not a person on this earth who lives life without enduring suffering and pain of some sort. What we do with our pain and suffering reflects our faith vision. Pain and suffering are not a direct result of our immaturity and sinfulness. It is true that some, if not most sins that we commit are followed by some type of pain and suffering, which some interpret as an inherent punishment from God, from transgressing the law of God. When I betray someone, there is the betrayal/the lie itself followed by the loss of friends – people tend not to trust me. The result is aloneness, isolation and loneliness.
It is also true that some pain and suffering result from circumstances beyond our control. I go for a long walk and a thunderstorm comes up and I am struck by lightning. I do a good deed for someone who is struggling and rather than say thanks – they take advantage of my kindness or they throw my good deeds away like an item that is no longer useful.
If it is our custom to respond to pain and suffering with anger, revenge and resentment that is good information for us and our life of faith. Pain and suffering almost always cause us to withdraw, to protect ourselves, put up walls, seek out and eliminate the source, and dull the pain.
The response of Jesus to pain and suffering is different! His response was and is to embrace the pain and to seek out the strength and support of God. In today’s gospel story, Jesus confronts pain head on and tries to find ways to encourage others to remain faithful. Perhaps there is wisdom here for you and I.
Perhaps as we look at our world and as we hear the Pope say, the emergence of COVID-19 is perhaps the earth’s way of telling us we are bruising our bodies and our planet with our lifestyle, we might ponder the wisdom of our production and consumption lifestyle.
Rather than try to eliminate every discomfort and pain and enhance our pleasure at every opportunity, perhaps at some point it would be prudent for us to ask this question:
Can my pain teach me anything about God, the human family or the beauty of creation?
The suffering and pain of Jesus led to new life. Will ours?
Let us make use of the silence of this day to take a longer look at our lives!
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI