Suffering is one of the greatest mysteries we face as human beings, a mystery that poses the greatest threat to our happiness and to our hope. Perhaps it’s better described as a stumbling block.
We are well aware that we not live in an ideal world: sure, we enjoy moments of intense joy and happiness, but we also experience loss and pain. We are well aware that the world leaves us wanting… nothing is whole or complete.
The Scripture readings today remind us that pain and suffering are not a mistake. When we experience it, we are tempted to believe that God has forgotten us. Yet, nowhere in Scripture does it say that Jesus came to take away our suffering or to explain it in a way that we become comfortable with it. Jesus came into the world to suffer with us, to fill our aching hearts with His presence, and to remain with us forever, most perfectly in the Eucharist. It is because God claims us as His own sons and daughters that we can stand in front of a tragedy with certainty and hope.
The Prophet Isaiah speaks of the Suffering Servant in the first reading, “The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity. Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.” The suffering of this man is not in vain, but rather his suffering is redemptive: it brings about goodness. Suffering is not absurd, but rather we can find hope in it.
As Christians we are called not to avoid suffering, not to look for it either, but rather to carry the cross. The go straight in, because it is only by engaging the reality of suffering that we are able to find peace.
I recently heard that God’s grace always enters through a wound – like a baby who enters the world causing painful labor pains to his mother, but after the pain comes the beautiful presence of the new born child.
It is through our vulnerability and weakness that our hearts and minds are opened to the workings of God. When we are vulnerable and weak we more easily recognize God at work, and our need for Him.
The world wants us to be strong, to pretend we have it all under control. Yet, we suffer sometimes in silence, sometimes alone.
Saint Paul writes, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”
Saint Paul teaches us to identify with Jesus, not in his power and glory, but rather in his weakness. God has taken upon himself a human nature and experienced everything we experience: hunger, sorrow, pain and suffering. Our God is not a distant God sitting far away on a throne over some clouds… but rather He is a God who wishes to be near.
In Jesus we see God become vulnerable – the humanity of Jesus teaches us that God loves us to the point of suffering with us.
Take a few seconds to remember an experience where someone you know experienced the same type of suffering or pain you did in the past. Perhaps the loss of a parent, or a child, or a difficult diagnosis. Or perhaps a divorce, or the sudden need to relocate. Our own woundedness allows us to show compassion toward others. We are able to relate to them, and provide comfort because we know what it’s like. The person hurting finds hope because now they know that someone else has suffered like he or she is suffering.
Jesus Christ has done the same. He has felt pity and compassion for us by becoming like us in all things but sin! Nobody has told him what it’s like to be one of us, he has experienced it first-hand. He identifies with our sufferings, and invites us to join ours to his.
Jesus told his apostles that “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant… for the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus gives it all, and through his experience of pain and suffering, we are redeemed.
He is the Suffering Servant that fills our lives with hope – a hope that is will grounded on His resurrection from the dead.