The overwhelming awareness in this week’s Scripture passages is of the reality of suffering, and the pain and indignity that it brings.
Suffering is a reality to be entered into with compassion and mercy in the name of Christ. When we encounter those who suffer, the Gospel calls us to give our lives and resources to serve and heal. And when we are faced with suffering of our own, the Gospel gives us the assurance of God’s presence and grace, and a community of companions to journey with us. This is the call of the Lectionary this week.
In Job, the suffering of Job is made worse by his sense of abandonment by God, and his longing to put his case before God. In Psalm 22 the sense of abandonment is echoed, as the Psalmist speaks of being persecuted, without any sense of God’s presence or rescue.
In Hebrews we find the assurance that Jesus is trustworthy because he was tempted as we are and overcame, and because he offers us mercy.
Finally in the Gospel, after graphically revealing how hard it is for the wealthy to embrace the sacrificial life of God’s Reign, Jesus assures his disciples that their sacrifice – and the persecution which they will certainly experience – is not in vain, and that God will restore good things to them.
A huge part of the struggle for those who suffer is the sense of loneliness, isolation and unwantedness that is brought on by the pain, and that heightens it. Even Jesus shared this experience. However, underlying all of it, is the assurance of God’s compassion and the mercy that God offers.
And, in Jesus’ words in Marks’ Gospel, there is the call for us to be agents of God’s mercy, grace and friendship.
Psalm 22 is so commonly associated with Jesus’ torment on Good Friday that it seems unworthy to be applied to our own lives.
Yet, the psalm speaks of the suffering and emptiness that so many feel in times of unimaginable sorrow— the death of a child, the devastation of a hurricane, the anguish of a loved one away at war.
There is power in acknowledging this suffering and the church’s response to it. We are not called to explain life’s hardships; rather, like Job, we are called to seek God’s presence with us in their midst.
The Hebrews text reassures us that Jesus is with us in times of trial because he himself endured such trials for our sake.
Mark reminds us that when we question God’s intentions for us, it is often our own choices that turn us away from God—choosing money, family, or security over God’s will for our lives.
There are two ways we can miss the message of today’s reading.
The first is to take Jesus’ response to this one particular person and make it a legalistic law for everyone to follow – which would basically be impossible.
The second would be to assume that, because Jesus was dealing with one specific person, his words have no application to our lives.
The point of this passage is Jesus’ explanation to his disciples that it is hard for those who are wealthy to enter the Reign of God. Remember that Jesus is not speaking about life after death. The Reign of God is about a radically different way of living before we die.The struggle that the wealthy have is that the values and principles of God’s Reign are so completely different to those of the human systems of our world. Human systems of power and wealth always tend to favour some and ignore others. They always end up perpetuating injustice, because human beings are broken and sinful. But God’s Reign is about equality and generosity. It is about” living simply so that others may simply live”. It is about sharing power, resources and opportunities. The problem is, the more wealth we have, the more we are invested in the human systems of this world and the harder it is to live according to the values of God’s Reign. The crunch is that, if you are able to access this Daily Worship resource, you are probably among the wealthy.
How can you reduce your investment in human empires and increase it in God’s Reign today?
The reason the Bible teaches us to give is not so much because others need us to. It’s because we need to. The only way to stop wealth taking hold of our hearts, and leading us to the greed and hoarding that causes so much suffering, is to give it away. Today, find every opportunity you can to give.
Help me today to give what I must to heal my heart, and to ease the suffering of others, O God.