Homilies

5th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Job 7:1-4,6-7; 1 Cor. 9:16-19,22-23; Gospel Mark 1:29-39
Why do Good People Suffer?
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 4 February 2018

In today’s Gospel we hear of Jesus curing Peter’s mother-in-law and great crowds with all kinds of diseases and cast out many devils from them.  The whole town was clamouring after Jesus and the crowds were getting larger.  In the morning, long before dawn, the apostles found Jesus in prayer in a lonely place.  They said to Him, “Lord, everyone is looking for you.”  Jesus replied, “Let us go to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.” 

The Compassionate Love of Jesus who led Him to heal the crowd is not only about a God who cures us of all our illnesses and wipes away all our problems in life.  However, Jesus has come for a greater and more important reason; He has come to proclaim that our sins are forgiven through His Compassionate Love and more importantly, He is offering us the greater gift of eternal life.

And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel, while Jesus cured many who went up to Him, He did not feel obliged to heal every person; instead, He felt compelled to move on to other neighbouring towns to proclaim the Kingdom of God; that not only heals, but offers eternal salvation.

We all have no doubts that the love of Jesus for us is a Compassionate and unconditional love.  However, we are still wrestling with the reality of the sufferings we go though in life.  In the daily experiences of life, human “suffering” continues to persist and are inevitable experiences of life that we cannot avoid, and are here to stay.  So, the question that is relevant for us to reflect on today, in this homily is, “If Jesus is infinitely Compassionate and unconditionally loving, why then is human suffering so persistent and pervasive in the world and in our daily living?” 

The meaning of suffering has first got to do with human responsibility, in the use of the human freedom that God has given us, out of His Love for us.  Yet, human suffering has also got to do with the mystery of our human living and our faith that many of us are trying to seek greater clarity . . . but, have no easy answers to and find ourselves very helpless.

One spiritual writer, Bert Ghezzi says, “At the root, the word suffering means enduring pain or distress, sustaining loss or damage, being subject to disability or sickness, and ultimately submitting to death. It comes in all shapes. Daily nuisances frustrate us. Repeated failures discourage us. Bills we cannot pay pressure us. A disintegrating relationship racks us. Depression defeats us. Violence wounds us or harms a loved one. Illness ravages us or overtakes a family member.  Suffering afflicts everybody.

For many of us, one way of trying to understand the meaning of suffering is the temptation to believe that just by being good Christians we can make suffering go away.  We imagine that God’s promise of blessing means that he will spare us all pain, if only we are able to live a more upright, moral and Christ-like life.  However, we also know that in life, it doesn’t work that way.”  Good people also have suffering, and are not spared by them.

On the other hand, many Christians attempt to comfort sufferers by touting the benefits of suffering.  They say, “Suffering builds character.”  However, the sufferer may very quickly answer, “I don’t want character, I want relief. . . “Why does God let bad things happen?” and “Where is God when I am hurting and suffering?”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, such questions are not easy to answer, but perhaps, we could try to shed some light though this story, shared by Ben.  Let us suppose a seven-year-old girl, Jane is taking her first ride on a bicycle, and her father is running alongside her.  The father then sees that Jane is about to hit a rough spot on the road.  Although his immediate reaction is to prevent Jane from falling, but he doesn’t because he wants his little girl to learn how to ride with confidence.  And so, when the bicycle bounces off the bump, and when Jane panics, and tumbles onto the pavement, and scrapes her elbow and knee, the dad scoops her up into his arms and comforts her. Then he carries her little Jane into the house, cleans and dresses her scratches, holds her on his lap, and tells her a favourite story.  In many ways, God is like this loving father, except that His Love for us is infinitely more than our earthly father.  God our Father lets us navigate our way, but he stays alongside us.  He does not prevent bad things from happening to us because he wants us to learn to deal confidently with trials and hardship in our lives.  But when we suffer, God as Father will scoop us up and stay with us.  He would share our pain, sustains us, and consoles us.

To understand our Father’s Compassionate Love for us, and why at times He seems to be absent when we are suffering, let us reflect on another story.  A father asks his son, “David, do you want to be a strong and mature man?”  “Yes, dad replies David without hesitation.”  Then, “David my son, for this you need to be tested.” David agrees.  So David father takes him into the forest and blindfolds him and says to him, “David, to be a mature man, you must sit on this tree stump the whole night not move or run away.  Most importantly, you are not to remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it.  Once you are able to survive the night, you have then proven that you are a mature man.” 

Throughout the night, David was somewhat terrified.  He heard all kinds of noises around him; some near, other further away and seem to be approaching him; some were surely from wild beasts.  The wind blew the trees around him and at was very strong, and there were even passing showers.  In all of these David took courage and remained very still, and held on to what his father had told him; if he wanted to prove that he is a mature man.  Finally, after a horrific night the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold.  When David did so, he was utterly surprised to find that his father was sitting very close by him.  He had there the whole night, protecting him from any harm.  Upon reflecting on the night’s experiences, David then began to understand that while there were threats of danger during the night, none of them seem to be able to harm him.

My brothers and sister, we too, regardless of the trials that we may be going through, like David’s father who protected him to ensure that he is safe, God our Father who loves us infinitely more would ensure that no harm can come upon us.  We are never alone.  Even when we don’t know it, God is always watching over us, sitting on the tree stump beside us so to speak.  So, we can always trust that God will never fail us.  

Let us then remember that while God’s Compassionate Love in unconditional and infinite, we are also called to live our faith with maturity and not in simplicity and with superficiality.  As in all human relationships and commitment, let us remember that, our married or priesthood vocation can only mature and deepen, if we are willing to face the challenges, trials and tribulations that come with surely come our way. 

As in our story of David let us be assured that God will never abandon us, and as in the story of Jane, even as we are tried and tested in our vocation, God will always be close us, in all our needs and dangers.  In fact, as with Jane, when God allows us to go through certain pains and trials, He wants us to trust Him more fully, and learn through our trials and pain, that His Love is unconditional and compassionate. 

More specifically, I would like us to conclude by reflecting on these series of questions which could shed further light on the questions and the complains we have about the trials and sufferings in our lives, and especially for those of us good people who are trying to be better, and yet finding the incomprehensible sufferings in our lives:

I asked God to take away my pain.  However, God said, No, and replied, “It is not for me to take away your pain, but for you to offer up your pain, and carry as a cross, in your life, as My Son did, during His life time. 
I asked God to grant me patience.  But, God said, No, and replied.  “Patience is a
by-product of tribulations.  It is not granted on a platter, but patience has to be developed through the maturity of your faith in Me.
I asked God to give me happiness. But, God said, No, and replied.  “I give you blessings, but what you make out of the blessings is in your hands; it is up to you to turn the blessings into happiness that you long to have.  ”

I asked God to spare me pain. God said, No, and replied.  “Suffering are allowed by me to draw you away from the worldly cares and self-centred attractions of the world, that will spoil you.  I allow pain in your life, so that you do not forget me, as they will draw you closer to me, through your commitment and love for me.
I asked God to make my spirit grow.  God said, No and replied.  “You must embrace the challenges of growth, but I will prune you; and these often come through painful challenges that will make you strong and fruitful.”
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. God said, No, and replied.  “I will give you life, but to enjoy life, you must love Me in all things in your life.”
I ask God to help me LOVE others, as much as You love me.  God then said... Ahhhh, finally you have found the wisdom of what it takes, to love me as My Son has Loved Me . . .”

And if Jesus, My Beloved Son, who is your Lord and Saviour is not spared from suffering, for the good and salvation of all peoples, so also do not expect that you would be spared from pain and suffering, just because you are a good person.  Embrace the reality of your lives’ challenges, and with My strength in you, all will be well, and you will enjoy eternal life with me . . .

(Ref. Adapted from Bert Ghezzi, “An Acceptance of Suffering,” Loyola press, A Jesuit Ministry; www.loyolapress.com;)

(Ref. Adapted from: A Father’s Protection, https://lordjesussaves.wordpress.com/inspirational-stories/)

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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