Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gospel For Today


Welcome back from Fall Break!  We will have Mass on campus this evening at 7:30pm.  See you there!

TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)

Why do bad things happen to good people?  Or to put it another way, why is there evil in the world?  The "problem of evil" has always been a stumbling block for some in their faith (and has indeed kept many away from faith).  If God exists, and he is all knowing, all powerful, in control, eternal and constant; if he is good and just and merciful as we are told; if he truly is Love -- if all this is true then why does evil exist?  We ask this question every time we hear of people dying in natural disasters on the news, or hear of another terrorist attack in the Middle East.  We ask this question when we suffer a loss in our own lives of a family member or a friend.  We ask this question when someone we love is battling a horrible illness.  We ask it when we have a broken heart.  We ask it whenever we suffer.  

Religions throughout time have battled with this principle question.  Different religions have had their own approaches to it.  There have in the past been many dualistic faiths, believing in two different Gods, one good and one evil, battling it out in a cosmic struggle of which we on this earth are only a small part.  But not Christianity.  We believe in one God, who is Love.  We believe in Satan, yes.  "The devil," who is a fallen angel, Lucifer, and his many fallen angels who serve him.   But he is not a rival god.  He is a creation, and even he and his angels only wreak their havoc by the permissive will of God.  

Why is this so?  Why would God allow evil to come into the world?  It is tempting here to point out that evil came into the world not through God's doing, but through our own.  Adam and Eve had it pretty good in the Garden of Eden until they chose to disobey God's will and eat of the forbidden fruit.  But you have to ask why God permitted the serpent to lurk in the garden, or why he even planted that tree there in the first place!

There is a phrase in Christianity; the "Fortunate Fall," or "Happy Fall."  We hear it in the Easter liturgy.  It sounds like an oxymoron.  How could we describe the Fall -- where sin and evil entered into human existence and became part of our lives -- as happy or fortunate?  The reason lies in the person of Jesus Christ.  "O fortunate fall that won for us so great a savior," as the phrase goes.  If we were not fallen we would have had no need for God to show mercy on us by sending us His Son, and we never would have known Christ.

But there is another meaning behind that phrase.  Having eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve began to know both good and evil.  From that point on in our human history, evil has been a part of our existence.  It is all around us.  But so, too, is good.  And we have a choice as to which we will allow to reign in our lives.  And because we have the option of evil, our choice for good becomes more meaningful.  After all, there is no heroism in choosing to do good when that is the only choice you can make.  The presence of evil actually elevates the good to a higher level than before.

To put it another way, it makes our love for God real.  I'm sure you have heard the phrase "fair weather friend."  It means someone whose friendship you can only count on in the good times, who won't be there for you in times of trouble or need.  What kind of a friend is that?  Not a good one.  A good friend, a true friend, loves you for who you are, good and bad, and sticks by your side through trials and suffering.

Are we fair weather friends with God?  Do we only love Him when things are going well for us?  If all we experienced in our lives was joy and happiness then we would never know the answer to that.  But that's not how life is.  We all experience suffering at different stages in our lives.  And if we, like Job, continue to love and praise God through suffering, then we know that our love for Him is real.

And so too is His love for us.  And this is where Christianity reveals its beautiful and mystical answer to the "problem of evil."  Many in the Jewish world were waiting on a Messiah who would come and rescue them from all their misery and problems; a Messiah who would make all their pain go away.  But that's not how God chose to do things.  His plan was much more loving.  Jesus came not to abolish suffering, but to suffer with us.

From today's first reading (Is 53:10-11):  "[T]hrough his suffering, my servant shall justify may, and their guilt he shall bear."

From the second reading (Heb 4:14-16):  "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way..."

And from the Gospel (Mk 10:35-45):  "For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Jesus asks James and John in that same Gospel passage if they can drink the cup he has to drink, or be baptized with his baptism.  He is referring to his passion on the cross.  We think of "passion" today in terms of romance, but the word actually means to suffer (which those of you with experience of romance no doubt can appreciate).  And so the word compassion actually means "to suffer with."  

God sent His Son to have compassion -- to suffer with us.  And so we are called to have compassion with Christ.  We must accept the invitation he made to James and John and drink from his cup.  Through our baptism we are united in Christ's suffering and death.  And so as Christians, any time we suffer, we know that pain and hardship is linked forever with the suffering of Christ.  It becomes a redemptive suffering.  It burns away the punishment due to our sins, it makes us holier people, and draws us closer to God, if we allow it.  

We have a King who is a servant.  We have a Lord who is Love.  We have a Savior who suffers with us.  Through all the trials in our life, our compassionate God is by our side.  

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