The Mystery of Suffering

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
January 10, 2023

Today’s Readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/011023.cfm

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we read from the epistle to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Mark. We will be doing this for the next month or so.

heb2_10 sufferingjpg

Hebrews is unique in that it was written rather specifically for Jews who had become Christians. They were people who were steeped in the spirituality and expectations of the Old Testament. Many had been waiting for a militant Messiah who would deliver them from earthly suffering by a display of power and might.

During the first century of Christianity, as the nascent Church experienced persecution, that hope for delivery re-emerged. Although they had accepted a Resurrected Christ, the community’s own present suffering fixated them on the Passion and Death of Jesus. They questioned how that anguished man could really be the One foretold in their Hebrew Scriptures, and how he could transform their lives.


Can’t we empathize with those early Judea-Christians? The mystery of suffering and death still haunts us. Don’t we sometimes question why Jesus had to die like that – why we have to die, why the people we love have to die? Don’t we feel at least some resistance to this overwhelming mystery?


The author of Hebrews tries to address those doubts by showing that the majesty of Christ resides not just in his divine nature, but in his loving willingness to share our human nature. By doing so, Jesus demonstrated in his flesh the path we must take to holiness. He leads the way through our doubts if we put our faith in him.

… we do see Jesus “crowned with glory and honor”
because he suffered death,
he who “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,”
that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone…

For it was fitting that he,
for whom and through whom all things exist,
in bringing many children to glory,
should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.

Hebrews 2:9-10

This is the core mystery of our faith: that God brings us to eternal life not by a path outside our human experience. Rather, Jesus shows us how to pattern our lives on the profound sacrificial love which is the Lavish Mercy of God. The path to eternal life is not around our human frailties and challenges, but through them. Jesus leads the way by his Life, Death and Resurrection.


Mark gives us just one Gospel example of that love today in the healing of the man with the unclean spirit. That spirit was one of resistance to the Word of God, screaming out as Jesus began to preach a Gospel of love, faith, and forgiveness.

Two Men Possessed with Devils – James Tissot (1836-1902)

The man with an unclean spirit cried out,
“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” 

Matthew 1:23-24

As we pray these scriptures today, let us put before God’s healing touch any resistance in our hearts to Jesus’s call to be merciful love in the world.


Poetry: Suffering – Jessica Powers

All that day long I spent the hours with suffering.
I woke to find her sitting by my bed.
She stalked my footsteps while time slowed to timeless,
Tortured my sight, came close in what was said.

She asked me no more than that, beneath unwelcome,
I might be mindful of her grant of grace.
I still can smile, amused, when I remember
How I surprised her when I kissed her face.


Music:  Crown Him with Many Crowns, an 1851 hymn with lyrics written by Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Turing and sung to the tune ‘Diademata‘ by Sir George Job Elvey.

This majestic hymn reflects how mid-19th century theology attempted to embrace the Redemptive mystery. Still, many of its suggestions, though cast in an earlier idiom, are well worth reflection.

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