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Homily on Suffering

Here is my homily for this past Sunday.

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Isaiah 53:10-11
Hebrews 4:14-16
Mark 10:35-45
October 21, 2012

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

This is the question that James and John ask of Jesus.  I imagine every one of us would get leery if someone said this to us.  We probably would immediately wonder what they want to ask of us that they know we won’t want to do.

Of course, none of us would do this.  Well, actually I think all of us might do it at some point without meaning too.  We might not say as much but sometimes when we pray we might more tell God what we want him to do rather than asking him what we should do.

Rather than respond yes or no Jesus replies back “Can you drink the cup that I drink?”  James and John respond “We can.”  

They are correct.  They will share in Jesus’ Cup but they don’t really realize the significance of this.  They are thinking in terms of Jesus’ greatness and glory.  They expect Jesus to take earthly power and to rule over the people.  James and John want places of honor.

Actually, they already hold a special place as two of the Twelve Apostles but they want more.  When the other ten find out what James and John are up to, they become “indignant” not really because they see the sin of pride in what James and John are asking.  Rather, they want the places of honor for themselves.

Jesus takes all of this and uses it as a teaching moment to tell them that to be great is not to rule over all people but instead greatness comes from serving others, being willing to make sacrifices for others.

From this story, I think there are two questions we should ask ourselves.  First, what does greatness mean to us?  Do we seek to have power and others serve us or do we seek to serve others in their needs?

Jesus died for our needs.  

The second questions we should ask ourselves is the question that Jesus asks James and John “Can you drink the cup that I drink?”

We can see this in terms of the blood of Christ and sacrifice.  James and John won’t have known about the Eucharist yet.  But just before this scene, Jesus has told the disciples for the third time about his coming Passion and they don’t get it.

Knowing of the Passion of Christ, the question “Can you drink this cup?” asks if we are willing to share in the sufferings of Jesus.

Something great, namely our salvation, comes from Jesus’ suffering.  Without his acceptance of his call to suffer our sins would not be forgiven and we would not be able to enter into eternal life.  As Isaiah writes of the Suffering Servant, “through his suffering, my servant shall justify many.”

Suffering can have value.

How much time do we spend avoiding suffering?  Now, it isn’t that we should want to suffer.  We should make sure we don’t suffer needlessly but sometimes I think we might put more effort into avoiding suffering than it would take to face the suffering.

There has been times when I have listened to people who sound like they go looking for suffering.  I don’t think we should look for ways to suffer.  Enough suffering can come our way without looking.  

What we do need to do with suffering is to accept it when it does come our way.  In accepting our suffering we can say to God, “Hey, I’m facing a difficult time right now.  I can’t handle it.  I need your help.”  

In doing so, we open ourselves to God’s grace.  It isn’t that God is going to make our sufferings vanish.  But God will help us to become better people through our sufferings.

For through our sufferings, we can find true humility and seek the Lord.  In suffering, we discover who we truly are, what our faith means to us, and we gain compassion for one another who suffer.  

We do not suffer alone.  We suffer with Jesus who knows what it is like to suffer and we suffer with one another.  Perhaps that is another great lesson of suffering.  We find out how is truly with us.

How do you define greatness?

What suffering are you trying to avoid and how might you accept it and seek God’s help?

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