Gospel Reflection for Sunday the 3rd of September 2023
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
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The mystery of suffering is one of the biggest challenges for belief in an all-loving God. It is a mystery that confronts us in many different ways: the death of a loved one… a child with a chronic illness… the images we see on television of innocent people afflicted by war and natural disasters… the list goes on, but at the root of all these tragedies lies the same fundamental question: why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? The reality of suffering in the world seems to indicate that God is not all good or else he is not all powerful. Indeed, the mystery of suffering has always been the atheists ‘trump card’.
While many forms of spirituality propose a path to ‘transcend’ the pains of this life, Jesus never promises to take suffering away. Becoming a Christian does not guarantee a ‘free pass’ through life. On the contrary. In this week’s Gospel reading we hear Jesus say that
anybody who wants to come after him must be reading to ‘pick up their cross’. We can’t hide away from the pains of life. However, by uniting our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ we discover the powerful presence of God in our lives.
When we read the accounts of the Passion in the New Testament, we are told about the two thieves who were crucified beside Our Lord on Calvary. We know that both these men began mocking and blaspheming Jesus. Yet, something changed in the heart of one of these men. We’re not told what happened exactly, but somewhere in the depths of his soul, the ‘good thief’ recognised that the Lord was right there beside him in his moment of pain. ‘Remember me Lord, when you come into your Kingdom’ (Lk 23:42). Jesus in return
promises him paradise.
These two thieves represent the choice that each one of us is faced with when something tragic and unexpected comes our way. We may experience the temptation to blame God when things go wrong. There may be moments when we feel like crying out to God in anger, ‘if you really are who you claim to be, then prove yourself by taking me down from this cross’. We also have the choice to be like the ‘good thief’ who recognised how Jesus was right there beside him in his hour of need. One of these thieves asked to be taken down from the cross; the other thief asked to be taken up from the cross. That is the choice that each one of us is faced with when we are dealt a cross to carry.
As Christians we know that God always brings good out of every situation so long as have faith enough to trust him. It is only by going through the pain of Good Friday that we enter the joy of Easter Sunday. Jesus never promises to take suffering away, but whatever cross we are asked to carry he will always give us the strength to carry it. And the most amazing thing of all is that when we unite our crosses with the Cross of Christ we find peace –a peace that does not come from this world, but a peace that comes from heaven itself.
It will always be difficult to rationalise the mystery of suffering; it can only be understood through faith. When everything else is taken away from us and there is nothing else to fall back on but the mercy of God, then we discover how Jesus is right there beside us. It is precisely at those moments when everything is at its darkest that the light of Christ shines the brightest. It seems that sometimes the only way for God to enter our hearts is to break them. God allows suffering in this world so that he can draw us closer to himself. When we follow the Lord’s command to pick up our cross and follow him we discover an even greater mystery that trumps the mystery of suffering: the mystery of God’s love.
– Fr Colm Mannion, O.P.