Heb 10:32-29/ Mk 4:26-34
When considering the readings for today, which follow the regular selections for this time of year, I wondered if they would be appropriate for a memorial mass. In fact, the first reading in particular spoke immediately to my heart. Both readings are about faith. And about faith and patient endurance. Faith may seek understanding and turn into theology, but often it winds up in deep and dark mystery. And this faith leads us to endure.
Suffering, especially the suffering of the good and innocent, has challenged the faith of believers at least since the Psalms and the Book of Job were written. Even Jesus was hard-pressed to account for unmerited human suffering and had no truck with notions that we’re paying for our sins. Nor did he tell us to offer it up for the poor souls in purgatory. Suffering remains a deep, dark mystery, one whose resolution lies in the mighty heart and power of God. We know so little of either.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus told the mob of critics that the man born blind he was about to heal was not paying for his sins or those of his parents, but so that the works of God might be revealed. It’s a brilliant explanation but one that relies completely on faith. Suffering is not something to be understood, nor, as the Buddha also taught, to be avoided, but to be endured. A friend has it this way: we cannot go around suffering, we can only go through it.
And so we believe. It does not lessen the suffering, but allies it with those of Jesus himself who suffered and died on our behalf. But he did not end suffering. It is a dark door each of us had to go through, hopefully guided by the light of the Risen Christ.
I think Meister Eckhart may have addressed the mystery better than anyone of his own time and long after. He startled his hearers by stating baldly that “God us our suffering.” What he meant by that strange claim is that, as he says, we have no suffering that God has not suffered with us and even before us. Our suffering is God’s suffering and what is in God, is God. For Eckhart, a man of tremendous faith, we do not simply let it go, we give it to God. And that’s hard, but that’s IT.
Somewhere in the wings, almost a century later, I hear Julian of Norwich echoing this faith with her famous refrain, “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.”
If we believe that, we can endure what we do not understand. And even as we and our loved ones suffer we can anticipate the great reunion in which God will “wipe every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things will have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” [Rev. 21:4-5a]