How is it the day after the great celebration of Pentecost we have two sad stories? Tobit speaks of a murder in Nineveh. And Jesus tells a parable about how a group of tenent farmers killed the land owner’s son to the very people who want him dead. Respectfully, these aren’t happy feel good Pentecost readings.
Our daily word reflects the strong theme of how people of justice are frequently ill-treated. The first chapter of the book of Tobit covers the virtues of Tobit, his unselfish attitude, and his fear of the Lord. So today’s reading, when he sits down to the celebration feast of the 50th day, Pentecost, his festive meal is interrupted by his son who reports to his father that he found the murdered body of a fellow Jew lying in the street. After eating his festive meal in sorrow and weeping, Tobit goes out to give a proper burial to his kinsman.
The sadness of the readings continues in the Gospel when after the cleansing of the temple, “The chief priests and the scribes began to look for a way to destroy him” (Mk 11:18). Between their plots to trap Jesus, he tells this parable about tenant farmers of a vineyard who chose to kill the owner’s son. The author directly states, “They knew well enough that he meant the parable for them.” Reading Mark’s gospel, Jesus is always portrayed as innocent. While he has done nothing wrong he ends up being crucified.
Somewhere along the line, all of us ask this big question, why do bad things happen to good people? We especially are challenged by this when we seem to be the recipient of suffering and asking the why questions don’t bring us comfort or understanding. The Christian response is that the picture is bigger than this small life we have. Somehow the lamp of eternity shines forth and the darkness we perceive are mere shadows of something far more luminous.
Passionists witness to this struggle for understanding. I believe Passionist spirituality provides a unique interpretation of this question. Our prayerful reflections on the Gospel’s passion narratives help us to see Jesus’ presence in the suffering of our human race and our own personal suffering. And while it may not take the pain away, it certainly gives comfort knowing that Jesus holds us and understands. The childhood image etched in my memory is of my mother’s presence when I was sick as a small child. While she didn’t take my sickness away, her words and presence brought a deep sense of comfort. So too, when I recognize Jesus’ presence is near me in my time of suffering, then I change the way I pray, and I focus less on the suffering and more on my connection to the divine. Suddenly the shadow isn’t as dark, for I now see a light’s illumination where previously I was fixated on the suffering.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Louisville, Kentucky.