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Gospel Commentary: Human suffering

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We are treated today with a gem from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus demonstrates his deep care and heavenly power toward a young girl and her hurting parents. Jairus, a synagogue official, pleads with Jesus to heal his 12-year old daughter who is sick to the point of death. While on the way to his house, Jairus is told not to bother the master any longer because she has since died. Jesus proceeds to the house regardless of the news, enters her room with her parents and three Apostles, takes her by the hand and says, “Talitha koum,” that is, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Just imagine the new life given to this girl and the joy given to her parents.

Today’s Gospel grants us the opportunity to ponder the meaning of Christian suffering. It is a very delicate and complicated topic because everyone endures moments of great suffering and the Christian response to this fundamental reality of life is filled with mystery. There are various ways to gaze upon this mystery. Allow me to offer four perspectives.

First, Jesus dove into suffering. Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan is a most powerful image of the truth that Jesus chose to plunge head first into the fullness of our human condition. He did not choose to dwell among us like an angel, only having the appearance of being human for a few moments; rather, the Son of God took on the fullness of our human condition, except sin. He knew well the experience of hunger, sadness, watching friends make poor decisions and mourning the loss of John the Baptist. Additionally, Jesus had the experience of being hunted by Herod as an infant and by religious leaders as an adult. He was misunderstood by most of the scribes and Pharisees, betrayed by his closest companions, put through a false trial, spat upon and condemned to a hideous death even though he was innocent.

In the end, Jesus’ suffering was far greater than any other because he carried on his shoulders the weight of every human sin. We can say with great conviction: Jesus knew suffering.

Second, Jesus cares deeply about us and our suffering. While walking the dusty streets of Palestine and proclaiming the Kingdom of God, Jesus spent a large portion of his time reaching out to those who were hurting. A glance through the Gospels quickly manifests a deep and abiding concern for the sick (the woman with the hemorrhages), the sinners (the woman caught in adultery), the handicapped (the blind man, Bartimaeus), those possessed by demons (the man who lived among the tombs), and the social and religious outcasts (the tax collectors and the prostitutes). How often do the Gospel writers comment, “And Jesus was moved with pity?” Jesus deeply cares about our suffering.

Third, Jesus used suffering to redeem the world. This is particularly the place where we gaze upon mystery. In God’s divine providence, Jesus did not choose to redeem the world by a fun, nine-inning baseball game or a wrestling match with Satan. He chose to redeem the world by surrendering his life to the Father in an act of obedient love that brought him to the cross. Through his passion, death and resurrection, Jesus crushed sin, Satan and death. It was the victory of love over selfishness and pride.

Finally, Jesus promises us strength to endure our suffering. Our Lord never promises a life without difficulties. Just the opposite is true: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16: 24). What Jesus does promise is his presence and his strength. At the conclusion of the great commissioning in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus states: “ … and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28: 20). Jesus is faithful to this promise in so many ways — the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist, the Scriptures, Christian community and the face of the poor and needy, to name a few. Furthermore, he provides immeasurable strength: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1: 12). The saints manifest so beautifully the power God provides in the most difficult of circumstances in life.

Human suffering … it is difficult and mysterious; but, Jesus is the Lord of our suffering.

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles.





© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018