31 March 2014

A Precious Treasure

Fourth Sunday of Lent
            Every once in a while when I’m having lunch at the rectory, I flip to the History Channel and watch the show “Pawnstars” about a pawn shop in Las Vegas.  Most of the times people think they have something of extraordinary value, when what they have is not worth quite as much as they hope or want.  Occasionally, though, people come in and think they have something that might be worth a few hundred dollars, only to find that it’s worth tens of thousands of dollars.  That must be a crazy feeling when you realize that something you never valued that much turns out to be a precious treasure!
            This evening the question I believe the Lord is posing to us, especially through our Gospel, is how much we value suffering.  Now, suffering is not a good thing.  It was never part of God’s original plan.  And yet, as we said no to God, we brought suffering in: suffering that comes from saying no to loving God and each other, and suffering that comes from illness and disease that entered into the world through original sin.  But I don’t think I need to convince anyone that suffering is not good.  It’s more of a task to say that it’s a precious treasure.
            In our Gospel today, Jesus’ disciples ask Him why the man was born blind.  They want to know why he suffers.  And they have some idea that suffering is due to sin.  But they equate it to the man’s personal sins, or his parents’ personal sins.  Instead, Jesus tells them, “‘Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.’”  The disciples fall into the trap that so many of us do all the time: if something’s going wrong, God must be punishing me.  But Jesus says the blind man’s suffering is not because he or his parents did anything wrong.  He suffers so that God’s works might become known, and people might believe in Jesus, the Son of God.  As we follow the story, it’s easy to see that reasoning, as the blind man is led to faith and worships Jesus.  But do we see that reasoning in our own life?
            When there’s a tough exam that we have to take; when a loved one passes away; when a friendship or romantic relationship we want never gets off the ground, or when a friendship or a romantic relationship that we’re in falls apart; when we’re sick; whenever something negative happens to us, like MSU losing in the Elite Eight, it’s easy to get down in the dumps and say, “Why me?”  It’s easy to wish away the suffering and try to avoid it as much as possible.  We see it as simply a negative.  But when we do that, we are blind.
As we approach Good Friday, I bet that all of us here have thought or said that we would be there with Jesus through it all.  We would stand with Him and accompany Him as He went through His passion.  I think that’s why so many people show up for the Good Friday liturgy.  But then, when we find ourselves at the foot of the cross of school; at the foot of the cross of the death of a loved one; at the foot of the cross of relationships that never were or that failed, we, like most of the apostles, want to get as far away as possible.  We want the resurrection, but we don’t want the pain and suffering that lead to it.
            Suffering is a treasure, something beyond the price of gold, because Jesus has made it precious.  By His innocent suffering, He has made all the pain and suffering of life mean something because it can be united to His redemptive suffering.  No longer does suffering have to be meaningless.  It can be directed toward salvation, just as Good Friday was directed toward Easter Sunday.  God loved us so much that He took on our suffering, so that we would know that we do not suffer alone, but that we suffer with God.  And when we do suffer with God, we also know that we will later rejoice with God.
            The exams, family deaths, relationship issues, and sickness all become a treasure.  When we embrace them and offer up to Jesus the very real pain that comes with them, we have new ways to show forth the work of God.  We have new ways to show forth the power of the resurrection that comes after the passion.  When we unite our sufferings with Jesus on the cross, then we find ourselves on Calvary, but instead of running away, we stay there with the Blessed Mother, St. John the Evangelist, and the few other disciples, not enjoying the suffering (God doesn’t ask us to be masochists), but finding peace and joy because we know we are becoming more like Jesus and our sorrow will be turned into laughter, and our pain into peace. 
            Today we ask God to heal our blindness, and let us see the true value of suffering.  We ask God to help us to unite our suffering to the suffering of Jesus on the cross and show forth the work of God, which changes suffering to joy.  We don’t look for suffering, but as it comes our way, and we all know that it does every day, we ask God to help us treasure our suffering, so that we can stand with Jesus at the foot of the cross as He suffered, and so share the joy of the resurrection that comes after suffering is complete.