33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

     Did you ever watch the television show Doomsday Preppers? Neither have I, but for some reason Netflix thinks I should watch it because it’s the first thing that pops up when I log in. Apparently it documents these so called preppers, these people who think the end is about to come and so they make all kinds of preparations for the end of times. They look at the world around them and they see all the wars, famine, and problems; all these things Jesus talked about in today’s gospel and then they jump to the conclusion that the end must be near. Jesus of course reminds us that we do not know the day or the hour when the end will come, so from my perspective, when it comes it comes. But there is a valid point there.

     It’s pretty easy for us to look at the world around us and see all the wars, the famine, and all this pain and suffering around us and we can begin to ask the question where is God in the midst of all of this. I think it’s perhaps the hardest question that we have to grapple with people of faith; this so called problem of evil. I’m sure you have probably wrestled with it. It goes something like this, if God is all knowing, all powerful and all loving, then why is there pain and suffering on this earth. After all if God is all powerful he could take the pain and suffering away, if God is all loving He wouldn’t want there to be pain and suffering on this earth and so he would take it away. On the surface it seems like a fair question and even a legitimate excuse to doubt the existence of God.

     The problem with that line of thought is that it comes from a conclusion that nothing good can come from suffering and I disagree with that. Did you hear Jesus in today’s Gospel. He turns that question upside down. He reminds us that as Christians our suffering has meaning and power. After all we don’t have to look any further than the crucifix to see that Jesus suffered more harshly than any of us ever will. He experienced it. God knows what it means to feel pain, to feel suffering, to feel loss. He has experienced all of it. After all to be a Christian is nothing other than to be a follower of Jesus Christ. And if Jesus had to experience pain and suffering why should we expect anything different.

     Sadly there are allot of Christian preachers out there who will tell you that’s not so. It’s a movement that started in the 1950’s with the so called “prosperity gospel.” If you turn your television on Sunday morning and you watch some of these televangelists there are spewing the same message. The message basically says if you are good and God is happy with you He will bless you with money, health, and everything else you need, but if God is upset with you, you go into debt and experience illness and suffering in your life. People fall for this. It doesn’t make sense. Look at the example of Jesus. Jesus is God, He is perfect, He never sinned, and He had to suffer worse than you or I ever will. If suffering were God’s punishment for personal sin then Jesus would have never suffered on the cross and you and I would have never been saved.

     You see, amidst the misfortunes and challenges of life we need to look no further than the crucifix and recognize it is not a punishment from God, yet, we could still use it as an opportunity to grow in our relationship with God. The challenge then is when we face suffering is not to ask what evil we have committed but rather to look at the crucifix and to acknowledge that Jesus knows our own plight.

     You know I believe we are most like Jesus when we suffer. Think about it for a minute. All the things I try to do, all the actions we do, we do imperfectly because we are human beings. But when suffering comes into our lives we don’t have to do anything, we just have to get out of the way. It is easier to suffer more perfectly then it is to do something more perfectly. Suffering, then is an opportunity for us to be more like Jesus, to grow in holiness, to walk down the path to becoming a saint.

     Friends, it is a fact of life, that suffering comes and it goes. And in those moments we can’t take the time to ask why God permits the suffering, after all nowhere in the Bible does Jesus promise that He has come to make us healthy, wealthy, and wise. Jesus never promises us wealth, He never promises us health, no Jesus came for something far more important, then to make us happy and wealthy in this life. Jesus’ focus wasn’t about making us extremely comfortable in this life it was about saving us so that we can spend eternity with Him forever in heaven.

     Jesus came into this world and freely took on our suffering to raise us up to eternal life. While God certainly has the power to remove suffering if He wished. He wants something greater. He wants to have a relationship with us. You see God doesn’t want to be some master puppeteer who governs every move of our life. Who when we are about to walk off a cliff pulls on the lever and pulls us back. No, that takes away our ability to choose which means it takes away our ability to choose to love Him. God’s wants something far more than us just being puppets, He wants us to be His friends. He wants us to choose to love Him. So what does God do? He does the next best thing. Rather than taking the suffering away He makes the suffering the means of our salvation.

     You see, “ultimately, far from ruining Christian hope, suffering is advantageous for it; it is even necessary. Without it, hope would be vague, an ill-defined yearning for happiness.”[1] My friends, suffering comes and goes in this life. We don’t have to go looking for it, it will find us without any problem. The problem for us is not to run from it. When suffering comes we need to turn into it. When we are suffering it’s not the time to ask why, but rather the opportunity to look at the crucifix and recognize that in that moment we have just been blessed to become more like Jesus and to recognize that He has the power to bring good out of it. After all you don’t get the joy of Easter Sunday without the pain and sorrow of Good Friday. So when pain and suffering come, as today’s Gospel reminds us will happen, it’s a chance for us to recognize that God is at work, that God has taken that pain and suffering and made it the means of our salvation.

[1] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 57.

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