03 February 2012

THE PROBLEMATIC OF SUFFERING

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jb 7:1-4, 6-7 / Ps 147 / 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23 / Mk 1:29-39



In the Old Testament, suffering is viewed in relation to people’s behavior: the reason for a person’s suffering is his sins.  The more sinful a person is the more suffering he endures.  This is one of the reasons why people in the Old Testament, for example, regard wealth as a sign of God’s favor while having no child as a punishment from Him. 

But there seems to be many exceptions to this commonly accepted view.  Thus, even the Old Testament echoes the eternal question: “Why do the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper?”  Eternal a question indeed, for no answer has so far satisfied it.  Will there ever be?  This question stands as the very foundation of Psalm 73, but the entire book of Job (from where our first reading is taken) tackles this problematic.

Job has almost everything any man can ever dream of having: a loving wife, healthy children of which seven are sons and three are daughters, and the largest estate in the land.  With his riches, he enjoys power and privilege, but he never abuses them; rather, he uses his wealth for hospitality and his influence for charity.  Job is not only very affluent, he is also very pious.  Devoutly he prays and strives to be always right with God.  So high is his moral sensitivity even to the point of being scrupulous.  Every morning, Job offers a sacrifice to God in behalf of his children who party every night unto the wee hours, for fear that in the course of their partying they might have offended Him.  But his righteousness spares him not from sufferings, terrible sufferings: one after the other, Job loses his children, his wealth, and his friends.  Messengers keep coming to tell him stories of horror, loss, and tragedy.  Yet to all these, Job declares, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes; blessed be the name of the Lord!”  Job may have lost everything, but not his faith in God. 

In the midst of his intense and unjustifiable suffering, only his faith in God remains his true power and wealth.  But even that, God allows to be tested.  Thus, Satan inflicts Job’s body with sores, from the crown of his head to tip of his toes.  He who can be the envy of many is now the disgust of all.  His wife advises him to curse God and die, but still Job keeps faith in God.  His last three remaining friends wish to console him but argue with him nonetheless.  They believe that he must have sinned to deserve such misfortunes.  Coming from this Old Testament worldview, Job’s friends insist that he must admit his guilt before God.  But Job protests, for as honestly as he knows he has not done anything wrong either to God or to any human person.

Job refuses to believe that his suffering is a punishment for any sin he has committed.  To the question as regards why he is suffering, he finds no answer.  Thus, he asks the eternal question: “Why me?”  Yes, he keeps his faith in God, but that does not guarantee his being exempted from the lot of many men – despair.  In the first reading today, we hear – or better yet, we feel – the voice of his suffering.  Job is brokenhearted: “…I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.  If in bed I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.  My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope.  Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”

In the absence of an answer, Job despairs.  But ironically, he never let go of his hold on God.  Good for him because although he is never given an answer to his question regarding his suffering, his fortune nonetheless changes for the better.  In the end, God stops Satan’s testing of Job’s faith and Job’s suffering ends and he is proven innocent.  Job’s life testifies to the truth of the Psalm we pray today: The Lord heals the brokenhearted.

Are you brokenhearted?  Why?  I read a posting on facebook that says, “People with the biggest hearts always suffer the most.”  Is your heart big enough so as to suffer the most?  Or is your heart so small so as to feel nothing at all?

We all are brokenhearted.  We are all wounded.  We suffer and we question our suffering.  Much more, we question God, and we are allowed to do so.  But please do not always expect an answer from Him when we are suffering unjustly.  God may not provide us reasons for our suffering.  He may not also answer us when we ask him, “Why me?”  But certainly, He is never far from those who suffer.  He heals the brokenhearted. 

When Jesus is face-to-face with concrete human suffering, He does not wallow in pity and simply ask the question “Why?”  Neither does He hide from the distressing stare of the suffering nor run away from suffering itself.  Rather, He shares in the brokenness of people.  As the Prophet Isaiah says, “…by His wounds we are healed” (is 53:5).  In doing so, Jesus identifies Himself so closely with every person in pain; Human suffering then can indeed become a privileged locus of grace.  His sharing in human suffering provides suffering more than reason; it makes suffering meritorious as well.  Thus, Bl. John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter on human suffering, entitled “Salvivici Doloris”,  issued on 11 February 1984, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the World Day of the Sick, writes about the kind of suffering that saves.  It is the unjust suffering of a just man, united to the suffering of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world.

Human suffering is a mystery.  It is not a problem to be solved.  Human suffering begs for enlightenment more than it seeks for a solution.  We do not and cannot solve human suffering with finality.  But we can, we may, and we should beg God to enlighten us with His grace even as we suffer.  The question of Job regarding suffering is not answered in the Gospel, despite the fact that Jesus not only heals the people from their different afflictions but also shares in their sufferings.  The question of Job about suffering is never graced with a satisfying answer.  Perhaps, Jesus, too, may have His own questions about the unending suffering that surrounds Him.  Certainly, when His own suffering brings Him to Mount Calvary and hangs Him on a cross, Jesus will question His own suffering, too (Cf Mk 15:34 and Mt 27:46): “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  But, as in Job’s experience, Jesus will never receive an answer from heaven.  Like Job, too, Jesus will keep His faith in God who is His Father.  And, finally, as God does to Job, so too will He vindicate His own Son and use His Son’s suffering to heal us all in our brokenness.

Job asks the question: “Why suffering?  Why me?”  Jesus asks them, too.  But Jesus does more!  While He Himself is suffering, He moves about healing those who are suffering too.  He does not allow His suffering to imprison Him, much less to make Him love less.  In doing so, Jesus Himself is the Gospel, THE Good News.  

Are we like Jesus?

2 Comments:

At 1:40 PM , Blogger Gina Gao said...

mice post! keep up the good work!

Check out my blog and follow me: www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

 
At 10:53 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Teach us and bring us closer to Your Heart everytime Lord Jesus !

Thank You for all Your Love !
Thank You for making us Love You !


-rory

 

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