28 Feb 2016
“‘Were [they] greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means!’” (Lk 13:2-3)
In the name …
Do you remember the weather this past Wednesday? Torrential rain. 2 and ¾ inches of rain actually. If one inch of rain equals one foot of snow, we would have had a blizzard of three feet of snow. All day and into the night it rained. With the ground frozen, there was water standing everywhere. You couldn’t walk without noticing how much rain we had. We were supposed to hold our Lenten Discussion Group up in Conway, but we moved it here to our church at the last minute to make travel a little bit easier because the rain was so bad. You couldn’t drive without noticing the rain. Then that evening at 11:00 the local news comes on. The lead story, the most important breaking news, was that it rained that day. I need the guy on television to tell me it rained? There was no one who could not possibly have known it rained, and yet there it was on the news, the lead story, hey everybody, it rained a lot today.
With this said, I’d like to talk about suffering in general and then about Jesus’ suffering on the cross. This could be like the rain-story on the news the other night. Suffering is a reality that too many of us are already painfully aware of and who don’t need me to remind them of it. Just as one example, a profound one but not an uncommon one, we’re going to add another name to our prayer intentions this morning. I was in the post office and a lady came over to me. She knows we say prayers for those battling cancer. Her daughter owns a store. A woman received a phone call while shopping, let out a scream, and fell to her knees. The owner rushed over and was told by that woman that her three-year-old grandchild had just been diagnosed with cancer. There is so much suffering in our world that we have to set-up firewalls because if we didn’t we’d become emotional basket-cases.
And because there is so much suffering, who among us has not asked at one time or another, “Where is God?” I know people who have lost their faith because of this question. And it was asked of Jesus 2,000 years ago, and Jesus wanted to make absolutely clear that suffering was not at the will or judgment of God. To those whose suffering was a consequence of human brutality and to random accident, Jesus reveals in today’s Gospel that their pain has absolutely nothing to do with God’s judgment. Suffering is not willed by God, but it has to be allowed by God. At Wednesday’s Lenten Discussion it was brought up that a survey has shown that people prefer a God of all love over an all-powerful God. God can’t prevent every bad thing from happening and still let us be free and intelligent beings created in His image, but God can love us no matter how bad we are suffering. That’s one of the fundamental reasons for the cross.
Every one of us here recognizes the cross, especially at this time of the year. In addition to all of the other crosses we have in this church building, during Lent we place a huge cross at the Communion railing. Everyone who pays even a little attention during Mass can’t miss that cross. But why the cross? A lot of theologians argue we were saved the moment Jesus was born. The cross wasn’t necessary in that sense. The cross was maybe necessary as a consequence of Jesus being unprotected from the meanness of this world just like we’re unprotected. Because Jesus has experienced human suffering, God has experienced human suffering, and therefore, in our most desperate moments, even if God feels so far away, at those moments, because of the cross, there is the all-loving power of God to stand with us and to help hold us up because He has been there.
In Steve Damon’s presentation this past Wednesday, he mentioned a couple of times that during Lent there is no celebration. This is a time for reflection and even remorse. Easter will come and with it rejoicing, but we’re not there yet. I like that distinction because Lent ends with Jesus dead and in the tomb. When Jesus goes to the cross, He’s not certain about Easter either. The scream was so impassioned that it’s recorded for us in the original language: “‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’” “‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mk 15:34) What a shocking statement of utter bewilderment when on the lips of the Son of God. God Himself is experiencing the full, blunt force of our human condition. His mortality is real; His uncertainty about death is real; His limitations are as real as ours. In the oldest account there is no calm “‘It is finished’” (Jn 19:30) as in John. Rather there is only a loud, desperate, inarticulate scream. (Mk 15:37)
That Jesus suffered is undeniable, but there’s more to it than this. To suffer is sadly unexceptional because there is so much suffering in our world. But Jesus not only suffered, Jesus was rejected specifically because of His suffering. Where suffering usually brings out compassion, it was the opposite with Jesus. His followers lost faith in Him and deserted Jesus for this very reason. This was not the Messiah they wanted. Peter not only fled, he denied Jesus. It even says in the Bible, “He began to curse.” (Mk 14:71) Did he curse Jesus? This is not only Peter’s fear; this is Peter’s rejection of a suffering Saviour. There are no disciples, friends or even family at the cross to comfort Jesus. The ones for whom He was dying mocked and reviled Him. The religious authorities laughed at the thought of His claim to be God’s Son. His rejection is nearly universal. Mark tells us that there were only a few women looking on safely from a distance. Rejection robs suffering of any dignity, and this is the suffering of our Saviour. Our suffering is not because God doesn’t care. Our suffering is the reason that God cares enough to face the rejected suffering of the cross. Hopefully this “news” about suffering is more noteworthy than “It rained out today,” and may it reawaken our appreciation for the loving sacrifice of Christ, drawing us ever closer to such a Saviour. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo