Wisdom 2:12. 17-20; 3:16 – 4:3; Mark 9:30-37
Wouldn’t life be rosy without suffering? There used to be such a time, way back in the beginning, before sin entered the world. At that time we were impassible. Did you know that? The word impassible means ‘incapable of suffering harm’ - but now, because of sin, we are definitely passible - and we definitely do suffer.
We know that animals can't suffer; they just feel pain. Suffering is only possible to humans who can anticipate it, imagine it, reflect on its unpleasant ability bring onto our horizon the most unpleasant reality of all - death.
And that is because suffering is, like death, something to which we are subjected. In other words, we lose what we prize so greatly, our sense of mastery and control over our own destiny. For some, just losing control, even without pain, is an unbearable suffering.
One of the most disagreeable aspects of suffering is that we can’t avoid it; it’s everywhere. It's not like the corner of the backyard where grandpa makes his compost, a place we just keep away from so that it’s almost like it doesn’t exist.
No, suffering comes to meet us – at home, at work, in the playground, in the streets, in youth and in old age. There’s suffering for the poor and for the rich and famous, the married and the single. Suffering is out there, everywhere, just waiting to pounce.
And worst of all, it’s inside us – in our minds, in our hearts, in our bodies and in our souls.
None of this, of course, is news to you. We are all too well aware of the reality of suffering. whatever form it may take. What we are not all sure about is its origin.
Many people say God is to blame for suffering which, of course, is just another way of saying 'It's not my fault' which, of course, is just another way of saying 'I don't deserve to suffer.' But that's where we are wrong. Suffering is 'my fault' and I do indeed 'deserve to suffer.'
Suffering was not part of what God planned for his children; nor was death. God created us to be in communion with him, in a deep harmony which excluded the very thought of suffering. But it was not to be.
Tempted by Satan we surrendered to the lie that knowing good and evil would make us like God. We fractured our communion with God and with each other; we destroyed the harmony within ourselves and opened our hearts to sin in all its horrid disguises. And to this legacy of our first parents we, too, have personally contributed our share of evil.
So let us not kid ourselves. We are responsible for suffering, not God. We are responsible for death, not God. As the disciple affirms, speaking to Christ in Thomas A Kempis' wonderful book The Imitation of Christ (Ch 52):
I deserve only to be scourged and punished because I have offended You often and grievously, and have sinned greatly in many things.
And again (Ch 10):
Give to God what is God's and ascribe to yourself what is yours. Give Him thanks, then, for His grace, but place upon yourself alone the blame and the punishment your fault deserves.
It is no surprise that those who wholeheartedly accept this truth are the ones most capable of suffering joyfully, while it's precisely those who appeal to a fictitious innocence who succumb to rage or depression.
The wise man, even when he knows himself to be innocent of the crime for which he suffers punishment, is always ready to console himself with the truth that he is guilty of many other crimes for which he suffered no punishment at all.
The case of Jesus is entirely different. Unlike you and me, Jesus actually was innocent. There was not even the slightest hint of sin in him and, by rights, by our human way of thinking, he should not have suffered at all. Perhaps this is why Peter was so disturbed by the Lord's matter-of-fact disclosure, last week, of the Passion he was to undergo.
This week again Jesus declares: The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men; they will put him to death; and three days after he has been put to death he will rise again.
If you want to be outraged at suffering now is the time. Now it is a matter of an entirely innocent man undergoing a passion, an incomprehensibly cruel agony, without in any way deserving it.
So, let us proclaim the truth with all our hearts and minds: WE DESERVED IT, NOT HIM!