Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9
Have you ever met a complainer? You know the type – a slight inconvenience becomes a major catastrophe and every little pain becomes an intolerable burden. Their constant complaints may serve a variety of purposes – i.e. bids for recognition as a "saint", indirect pleas for assistance (whether truly needed or not), or a means to gain pity. Regardless, they use their suffering in selfish pursuits, entirely focused on filling their own needs.
Then there is the attitude with which my siblings (and many other Catholics) were raised. Whenever we complained, we were admonished to offer it up for a greater good – for poor souls in purgatory, starving babies in Africa, leaders of our country, or those who were dying that day. Our suffering was always to be focused on the other. This gave meaning to our suffering and also, by imbuing it with purpose, made it easier to endure.
Today’s readings stretch that principle to incalculable depths. We are told of the unnamed Servant who suffered rejection, humiliation, and death on behalf of his people, paving the way for them to return from exile and rebuild their lives in Jerusalem. Then we re-live the passion of Jesus, who was betrayed, tortured, disgraced and put to death for us that we might know the infinite love and mercy of the God who always works to bring life out of death. Both innocent, they freely accepted public degradation and offered up their lives. God then gathered up their sufferings and used them as conduits of redemption in a world fraught with sin.
Can God so use me? Though they pale in comparison, can my sufferings, willingly endured, somehow be gathered up into God and transformed? Can I "die" so that others might live? I don’t understand how this can be; my logical American mind wants to reject it outright. And yet, my heart keeps returning to these readings, and even in the midst of pain, they lift my eyes in hope. Though I have no answers, proof, or assurance of efficacy, I kneel as at Gethsemane. Trembling with the weight of the words, I ask that God’s will be done above my own and I pray for the strength to place my life into the hands of God.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.