Sunday, 8 February 2009

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Job 7:1-4.6-7; Mk 1:29-39
“Is not man’s life on the earth nothing more than pressed service, his time no better than hired drudgery?
Lying in my bed I wonder, ‘When will it be day?’
Risen I think, ‘How slowly evening comes!’
My life is but a breath, And… my eyes will never again see joy.”(From Job)
This book of Job is one of my favourite books of the Bible (along with Lamentations and Ecclesiastes), and it talks about the incredible suffering that comes to the man Job. I like it, not because I’ve known the extremity of his pain, but because, like all of us, I know something of suffering, and something too of the uneasy questions suffering puts to our faith.

The suffering of Job is all the more significant, in that it is the suffering of a GOOD man, a righteous man, a man who cannot see WHY he is suffering –after all, he hasn’t done anything wrong. Job never gets an answer as to why this is happening to him. Job’s friends try to explain why he is suffering, but they fail. And at the end of it all, God appears, and he refuses to give a reason as to why suffering has come to Job. Instead he rebukes Job, for daring to demand the reasons for God’s actions, because Job is a mere creature. God’s ways are beyond Job, and he has no right to question them.

In the fullness of time, God has given us a more complete answer to the mystery of suffering. Like all truth, it is revealed in Jesus Christ.
We see part of that answer in the simple fact, that when God, the Lord Jesus, appeared on earth, he went about healing the sick, as we heard in the gospel. And that teaches us the truth we already knew from Genesis, in the Fall of Adam and Eve, that God does not DIRECTLY intend suffering. When he created the world it was free of pain, and suffering only entered the world when WE damaged it with Adam and Eve’s Original Sin.

Sin, evil and suffering all entered the world together, and Christ came to heal the world of them. He preached the moral truth against sin, he forgave the repentant, and he healed those in suffering. And just as these three entered the world together, they were vanquished together by Christ on the Cross. Christ embraced all pain, and offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sin, saying “Forgive them, Father”, as he hung there for us.

It is in Christ on the Cross that we see the answer to mystery of suffering. We see his desire to be united to us in our pain, to strengthen us to carry our own crosses. We see that suffering is a result of Original Sin, and that God overcame sin on the Cross. But we also see a deeper truth about how God’s Providence works through suffering.

The men who condemned Jesus, and had him put to death, did so out of their own evil motives. But we know that unknown to them God was also at work, not desiring their evil, but still working through it. God achieved an even greater good out of their evil –the salvation of mankind that we celebrate in every Mass. And the new Catechism (599-600) teaches us that this is the pattern of all of God’s working.
We may not see how, but he is at work, even in our pain, to achieve an even greater good for us. We have this as a promise in scripture: “All things work for the good of those who love the Lord”(Rom 8:28). But the even greater promise of it, is that we see it in the life, suffering, death and resurrection of his own dear Son.

The exact answer to the question, why is THIS particular thing happening to ME, we won’t know until the Lord reveals it to us on the Last Day. But we do know that he is with us on the cross, and that he is working in us to achieve even greater things for us. This is the truth we see in Jesus Christ, especially on the Cross. When, like Job, we fear that we shall “never again see joy”, then the truth of Christ on the Cross, is what we should ponder in hope.

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