The readings are challenging today. Wisdom 2 has the godless saying: Let us lie in wait for the righteous one who makes life inconvenient to us and opposes our actions…let us test what will happen at the end of his life, for if the righteous one is God’s, God will help him and deliver him….let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.
A lot of bad theology probably comes out of these lines. We do not do suffering well in this society of ours, and, truth be told, are moving towards doing it even less well. Jesus in the Gospel of Mark tries to explain that he will suffer but the disciples did not understand it either and ended up arguing about something that was irrelevant to Christ’s remarks. We do not want people to be tested or, worse yet, tortured. Many of us pray all the time that our loved ones, as well as ourselves, will be protected. I start and end my day with a prayer that says Protect me and those that I love this day/night. However I am not sure exactly what that means. I just have to trust that God knows.
I have been the recipient of answered prayers for protection. Going into surgery earlier this year, the doctor had been clear that I might not make it and even if I did, things could go terribly wrong afterwards, and that my recovery would be difficult. I am awed that none of that was truly the case. Did I suffer–am I still suffering? Yes. Could it have been much worse? Apparently so. Did people want to hear about it at the time? Not really. As a single person living with cancer, I am well aware that I do not have someone to whom I can pour out my heart and soul to without any restrictions at any given time. I have amazing friends who have held my story gently, even when the information has been more than they have wanted to bear or hear. A very few have been more like the disciples and I comprehend their anxiety.
The suffering of a righteous person seems to be unacceptable. I think though that the suffering of anyone is. Yesterday as I walked along the banks of a river, I stopped to talk to a homeless man. I had no money or food with me and so I could not give him anything of a material nature. All I had was my time and attention which I shared with him. He was in a bad state and my heart went out to him. He was angry and suicidal (or manipulative–I could not really decide based on a decade of volunteering with people who live on the fringe). I walked away feeling tremendously sad that someone would want to take their own life and have nothing to live for. I thought about what I have been through these past eight months and what my suffering looks like. I suspect that few would call this man a righteous human being but still his suffering bothered me. In fact, he seemed to be a godless one (although he did say he was a Catholic) who was mad at the righteous who were making life inconvenient for him. When I returned he remained in his spot. I asked him if anyone had given him money for bus fare and he replied no. The woman standing at the bus stop nearby piped in: I gave him a bus ticket. He had not lied as he had not received money but he did fudge his answer. I told him that he was lucky that she was so kind, gave him a blessing, and kept walking. We sometimes create our own suffering and at other times it is thrust upon us.
The reality is that suffering of any kind is not easy. In the First Week of the Ignatian exercises retreatants spend time contemplating the Crucified Christ on his cross. Most people do not spend time reflecting on this mystery in order to reap graces that are sacred. The Resurrected Christ is a much happier contemplation. One of the treasures of contemplating the Suffering Christ though is that it helps us with our own anguish. Do not be afraid to seek the secrets of suffering through the One Who Has Been There.
What have been the fruits of your suffering?
Do you ever feel protected by God when going through a rough patch?
Your words are true,
Your hand delivers me
and your hand is on each one of us
if we but have eyes to see.
Show me the secrets of suffering
and guide me through the rough patches.