Why?

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In times of great suffering it is common to wonder, “Why is this happening to us?” It’s a question that at its core is asking, “Why do I have to suffer?” I have been asking this question a lot in these days. Rather than settling on a perfect or definitive answer, I’ve been left holding the question in my hands. 

The good news is that the scriptures we read or hear at Mass this Sunday give us a little help with the answer. We’ll find some meaning in these scriptures because the reason we suffer is intimately tied to the answer to the question, “Why did Jesus have to suffer?”

In the gospel this weekend, we hear the familiar story of the road to Emmaus. Two characters are leaving Jerusalem to return home after Jesus’ death. When they meet a stranger along the road, who asks the travelers what they are talking about, they say, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.” Jesus then calls them fools and explains the events.

For me the phrase that gets me is when the two travelers say “The things that happened to Jesus…” Certainly Jesus suffered and was killed and those events happened to him, but the way it is phrased, clearly missed the point that Jesus choose his path. Jesus wasn’t a helpless victim, but glorious sacrificial victim. He suffered and died because that was the way to accomplish his mission to save humanity from death and sin. 

This gospel is from Luke, but in John’s gospel, Jesus always seems to be in control. The things that happen to him happen because he ultimately wants to accomplish his mission of love. Certainly Jesus asked for the cup to pass, and then he submitted to God’s will. Maybe he didn’t desire the cross, but he absolutely embraced it. Jesus’ desire was for love and a suffering sacrifice was the only way to love enough.

None of us would choose suffering for ourselves or our loved ones. Love requires sacrifice which often means suffering. We see it in small ways like doing the dishes when it is our spouse’s turn. And we see it big ways when someone sacrifices their life to save another. 

The suffering that we are experiencing doesn’t make sense unless we unite it with the suffering of Jesus Christ. Unless we offer it up to him and embrace it so that others might be loved, we might just think it is all meaningless. 

So what do we do in the face of great suffering? Love. I know that seems overly simplistic and trite, but it is the right answer. It has always been the right answer from the beginning of time and no one teaches us that more than Jesus Christ. 

When correcting the two travelers Jesus says, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Our salvation was dependent upon it. Now we can follow in Jesus’ example, and sacrifice, maybe even suffer, so that others might know love. 

LIVE IT: When it comes to loving the first battle ground is our own heart. This doesn’t mean just be nice to yourself, but instead it means sacrificing something so that you get what you really need – Jesus. While the world is upside down, find 10-15 minutes extra each day when you can give up what you would normally be doing in order to listen to Jesus. Speak his name and sit in silence. BONUS: Show your family you love them this week. If they are the only people you see, they are the people you are being called to love well. 

The Good News for March 29th

For the complete Sunday readings click here.

On Palm Sunday we hear the story of Jesus’ Passion and death. The gospel is the longest of the year and it is easy to tune out the words because we’ve “heard it all before.” However, this is the central story of our faith – the most important story that we tell. Namely, God suffered, died, and rose from the dead all because he loves us so much that he can’t imagine life without us.

Toward the end of the gospel, Jesus says this simple phrase, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabchthani?” which is translated as “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I was always challenged by these words. On the one hand it was powerful that even Jesus Christ, Son of God, chosen one, the anointed, the one closest to God of anyone who has ever lived, felt abandoned by God. Sometimes we feel abandoned and Jesus knows exactly how that feels.
On the other hand, I wondered did Jesus really not understand what he was doing? It seems in the rest of the gospels, Jesus seems to understand and even predict his death, but when he came to it didn’t he understand God was with him in his suffering? I really struggled to accept this part of the story.

That is until someone pointed out a very important aspect of understanding this moment of Jesus’ suffering. The phrase “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” appears not only here is the gospel, but also as the first line of Psalm 22.

Jesus was quoting Psalm 22 while hanging on the cross.

As a practicing Jew, Jesus would know the psalms well and be able to quote them. The Jewish audience at his feet would know exactly the Psalm he was quoting and understand the entirety of his message.

See, Psalm 22 starts with this question about God abandoning the speaker and laments how God seems to not be answering the cry of the oppressed. But, about half way through Psalm 22 changes to be all about the hope one finds in God, even in the midst of the worst situations. Then the Psalm describes proclaiming the faithfulness of God, and finally end with the good news that “The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.” In other words, God is delivering us from the oppression of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and our job is to tell the next generation all about it!

While hanging on the cross, suffering overwhelming physical pain, and preparing for his death, Jesus gives us one more teaching – When things look the absolute worst, God is still with us and will deliver us. Moments before his death, Jesus was pointing toward the hope of the resurrection. Jesus final verbal instruction before his death is that we must not be afraid to share this story and the good news that Jesus has conquered death forever.

Live It:
Read Psalm 22 by clicking here.