The First Reading tells us: Death was not God's doing, he takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living ... it was the devil's envy that brought death into the world ...
We need constantly to remind ourselves of this. Death was not God's doing ... it was the devil's envy that brought death into the world...
As a hospital chaplain, almost every day I saw people struggling to come to terms with the suffering and death of a loved one, or with their own impending death. A common question, almost an accusation, at such times is 'Why is God doing this?'
My simple response was always 'God is not doing this' and I left it up to the grieving person to pursue the issue or not. Mostly they didn't but sometimes, hours or days later, some would ask 'What did you mean, Father, when you said "God did not do this?"'
Our Catholic faith presents us with a very clear picture of God's loving creation and his concern for us all. At the very beginning it is clear he made us to be imperishable, as the Book of Wisdom affirmed just now. Death was never God's plan for us, and neither was its partner, suffering. Both suffering and death entered the world because mankind, through the temptation of the devil, turned away from God. This turning away had dire consequences.
To understand this we need to remember that when we turned away from God we turned away from everything good – love, wholeness, innocence, light, life - and we found instead: fear, brokenness, guilt, darkness, suffering and death.
Satan tempted us and we fell for his lie and one of the worst consequences of this falling is that from that moment on we found it difficult to take responsibility for sin. So we blame everyone except ourselves - the woman made me do it - the serpent made me do it.
Even today we hide from the truth about suffering and death and blame God for it all. At the least we accuse him of failing us because he doesn't just simply take it all away, make it all better, fix it! which, of course, is precisely what he has done, and in a way which wonderfully satisfies both mercy and justice.
What God did was to send his own Son, Jesus, to take upon himself the very scourge we brought into the world through our sin. He took upon himself suffering and death and made them a path to eternal life for those who follow his steps. In other words, the very suffering and death which led to our ultimate destruction now leads to eternal life - but we have to believe!
Suffering and death still come to us in this life but now, hand in hand with Jesus, they lead us to the resurrection and heavenly light. The Scriptures and the saints teach us this lesson over and over again, telling us to walk the painful journey of life in the footsteps of our loving Master, carrying the cross of our sufferings in faith, and we will find ourselves sanctified and blessed, already here on this earth, and in the world to come.
That's why people flocked to Jesus. Their deafness and paralysis and demon possession and illness were the sufferings which caused them to come to the one who alone could give health and life. As he took these away he taught them there was a disease greater than those of the body, and a health and a life greater than the one they were seeking.
This is what makes sense of that mysterious question of Jesus to the disciples in the sinking boat last week - 'Why are you so frightened?'
We can imagine the disciples responding 'Why are we so frightened? What do you mean? The boat was filling up with water, it was going down, we were going to die! WE WERE GOING TO DIE!' And then Jesus mysteriously, challengingly, 'So, why are you so frightened?'
In our own lives the question repeats itself over and over. But, Lord, I have cancer! So, why are you so frightened? But, Lord, I have heart disease! So, why are you so frightened? Lord, we are out of money, my husband lost his job, my wife had an accident, I am pregnant again .... THE WORLD IS ABOUT TO BE DESTROYED! So, why are you so frightened?
This is the question which brings us to the outer limits of our faith in God. In the face of the problems and uncertainties of my life, in the face of the problems and uncertainties confronting the world - why am I so frightened? Do I believe or not?
Jesus invites us to a faith which transcends present suffering and future death. He invites us to the peace and joy of total faith in a future which is in his loving hands. No matter what we may suffer, even death, he invites us, not to fear, but to rejoice because our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).