Christ cares, Christ shares, Christ transforms
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first reading is from the book of Job. Job was a patriarch who lived somewhere beyond Palestine. He was a very good-living man, a paragon of all the virtues, and it came as no surprise to his people that he was also very well-off, because according to their philosophy the good were always rewarded by God and the wicked punished. But Job became the victim of a series of unbelievable catastrophes. His sheep, his cattle, his servants, even his sons and daughters were struck down by a succession of misfortunes. But Job was extremely patient and resigned. 'Yahweh gave,' he said, 'Yahweh has taken back. Blessed be the name of Yahweh!' (Jb 1:21). But his suffering didn't end there. He became a human sore. His body was covered from head to toe with boils, a particularly painful form of leprosy. He was at his wits' end. His distracted wife wasn't much help. Her advice was brief and to the point: 'Curse God and die' (Jb 2:10).
The book of Job raises a whole host of questions about the problem of human suffering. However, it does not provide a comprehensive answer. The only honest thing anybody can say in certain situations is 'I don't know'.
And yet there is a measure of insight and comfort that comes to us from the Scriptures. There’s the makings of an answer in what we learn about the Lord. Perhaps we could sum it up briefly under three headings? Christ cares. Christ shares. Christ transforms. Nobody reading the gospel could question Our Lord’s compassion. The evidence of his concern is imprinted on every page. No person ever passed through history with such a healing touch. We read about it, yet again, in today's Gospel. 'The whole town came crowding round the door, and he cured many who were sick with diseases of one kind or another' (Mk 1:33). He took Peter's mother-in-law 'by the hand and helped her up' (Mk 1:31). One thing the suffering must know is that Our Lord is very close to them. His every touch is the touch of compassion. If the healing doesn’t' come in this life, it certainly will in the next. In that sense we are all mothers-in-law! He takes us by the hand and helps us up!
That Christ shares our suffering is brought home to us each time we look at the crucifix. An even larger question than that of human suffering is why God should suffer at all? Isn't it an extraordinary thing that, in the prime of his life at the height of his mission, Christ should have been crucified on a cross? In the Garden of Gethsemene his suffering was so intense that it manifested itself in the sweating of blood. Doesn't it diminish our sense of isolation – as sufferers – that Our Lord himself felt so abandoned on the cross? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' (Mt 27:47). Christ didn't just sympathise with us in our suffering; he identified with it to the full. He didn't just say, 'I'm sorry'; he said, 'I suffer too'. He didn't deserve his fate any more than the good people we know. If the Son of God suffered like that, it must have some meaning. If we suffer, it must have meaning too!
And so we come to the last element in our homily: 'Christ transforms'. Let me put it this way. The suffering we experience can be useful or useless; it can be productive or a waste. In our Lord's case, it was immensely productive or redemptive. He offered his life to the Father for the salvation of humankind. Let it be as you, not I, would have it' (Mt 26:39). The suffering we offer is similarly redemptive. Not equally of course, but similarly all the same. Our offering becomes part of his offering. The thread of ours is woven purposefully into the fabric of his. What we have to put up with becomes positive, prayerful and sacrificial. Once our suffering is united with Christ's - becomes part of Christ's — it is transformed! Dead weight becomes live offering.
Christ cares, Christ shares, Christ transforms. Not a complete answer to the problem of human suffering, but a bit of an answer all the same! May it be a help to us and to others when the crossbeam digs deep.
Redacted homily of Cardinal Joseph Cassidy