Sunday, October 21, 2012

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

            I have a bizarre fantasy of creating a new category of Mass readings which I call the Debbie-Downer-Monday-only readings.  We have one today—“The LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity…”  In hearing this I imagine the caricature of God as an angry child on an ant hill with a magnifying glass who enjoys watching things burn.
            The LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity?  Well, yes, actually.  But who is the him in this verse referring to?
            This reading from Isaiah is from one of the four suffering servant songs.  These are well known and we hear from them fairly often, especially in Lent.  The suffering servant was the one who would come to redeem Israel.  He would have the spirit of God and instill justice in the world.  A bruised reed he would not break; a smoldering wick he would not quench.  He would be beaten.  His beard would be plucked.  He would be spit on.  Today, in the fourth servant song, we learn that “through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.”
            The suffering servant is Jesus Christ—specifically Jesus Christ crucified.  So yes, God was pleased that Jesus was crushed in His infirmity.  Not that God enjoyed the suffering in itself, but He was pleased that His beloved Son endured His passion and death to redeem us.
            Jesus Christ gives us great hope in our own suffering.  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.”  Jesus never promised our Christian walk would be easy—in fact,  He promised we would suffer as He did: “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized…”  What are you suffering from right now?  What have you suffered with in your life?  
Suffering isn’t easy, but God is infinitely pleased when we suffer well.  When we do, we can grow in humility as we realize how truly frail and weak we are and that we are completely dependent for our very existence.  We can more easily forgive as we see life as a bigger thing that petty disagreements.  We can grow in love as we lay down our lives for our friends.  To do this, we must first face our suffering.  
            To illustrate this, I’d like to use compare suffering to hunting.  I know this is out there a bit, but bear with me.  If you’ve ever had the experience of grouse or pheasant hunting with a good dog, you are blessed.  It’s a blast seeing a dog get on a bird’s trail.  They get a scent and follow this until they find the bird.  Yet sometimes these birds don’t fly—they’re actually quite dumb and sometimes you almost need to kick them.  A few times I have witnessed by Dad’s dog pounce several times on a clump of brush to get the dang thing to fly.
            Facing suffering is difficult, but like a good hunting dog we do well to sniff it out.  Sometimes we need to be very diligent and pounce on difficult situations head on to “flush it out”.  When we do God can shoot it down.  And unlike my Dad, or brother, or (rarely) myself—God never misses. 
            One of the most powerful ways to surrender our trials and sufferings is to bring them to Christ at Mass.  Just as we give the Lord our money and present Him bread and wine, we should offer Him what is most difficult in our lives.  Just as the Lord consecrates bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood He will consecrate our suffering to make a pleasing offering to His Father and ours.
            As we celebrate Mass this morning, we give God our suffering.  As the letter to the Hebrews says, may we “…confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”

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