Allow God to Meet You when you Suffer and be Transformed

Homily for the Tenth Sunday of Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

God is with us when we suffer. When we suffer we may be tempted in a moment of weakness to think that God has abandoned us but that is not the case at all. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, so to speak. Suffering is always a mystery without a satisfactory answer, but suffering can be an occasion for us to allow God even closer to us into our lives. In each of the three readings today we see people suffering in different ways but also meeting God and being transformed. In the first reading (1 Kings 17:17-24), a man died and his mother was hosting the prophet Elijah during a famine. We can see the mother’s pain in her reaction as she wrongly blamed Elijah and her own sin for the death of her son. We are not told what her sin was, but whatever it was, God would not punish her son for it. In fact we see the opposite, as God restores her son to life again through the intercession of the prophet Elijah. The mother herself came to realize how wrong she had been initially to blame Elijah when she admitted after her son’s resuscitation that Elijah was a man of God and it was the word of God that came from his mouth. As I said, God is with us when we suffer. When we suffer we may be tempted in a moment of weakness to think that God has abandoned us but that is not the case at all. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and the mystery of suffering can allow God even closer into our lives as it did in the case of this woman. There is another insight to be gained from this event. If you read the passage just before this, you read about the woman feeding Elijah during a famine (1 Kings 17:8-16). If the woman had not been kind enough to host the prophet Elijah during the famine, he would not have been there to intercede before God for her son when her son died. Her good deed to God’s prophet was rewarded. She saved the prophet’s life during the famine by feeding him and God saved her son’s life when he died. She met God through the prophet Elijah, and she and her son were transformed.

In the second reading (Gal 1:11-19) Paul writes briefly about his own conversion on the road to Damascus. We heard him say that he “persecuted the Church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” (Gal 1:13) He was going to Damascus to literally destroy the Church when Jesus appeared to him on the road and Paul was forever transformed. Before meeting Jesus in some kind of vision on the road to Damascus he had a complete mental block against Jesus and the Church. Paul had even seen the witness that Stephen, the first martyr gave, as Paul stood by and watched Stephen being stoned to death for preaching about Jesus (Acts 6:5-8:1). Yet it took a personal vision from Jesus for Paul to realize that the Church is the body of Jesus when Jesus said to him, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:5) Then Paul saw the error of his ways and turned his life over to Jesus completely to serve him in his Church. This reminds us that unfortunately there are many nowadays who have a mental block against Jesus and the Church, and that there are some who are even like Paul before his conversion trying to persecute and destroy. When Paul was persecuting, he did not know Jesus. Once he met Jesus, he stopped persecuting. This reminds us to pray for those who are persecuting now, that like Paul they will meet Jesus and understand with the mind of Jesus (Phil 2:5). Paul’s state of mind before he met Jesus was a cry for Jesus. Paul was really crying out for Jesus in his life even though he didn’t know it, and this cry for Jesus in his life took the misguided form of trying to persecute and destroy. Having Jesus in our life helps put everything in order in our lives.

We see that in a very dramatic way in the Gospel today (Luke 7:11-17). The son of a widow in the city of Nain in Galilee had died and was about to be buried. When Jesus saw her he was moved with compassion for her. The English translation of the Greek Luke wrote (ἐσπλαγχνίσθη) doesn’t bring out the full meaning of Jesus’ pity for the woman. Luke wants us to grasp that Jesus was completely moved in his deepest self with compassion for the woman, so much so that Jesus was almost feeling compassion physically in his stomach for the woman. On two other occasions Luke uses the same type of language; when the Good Samaritan in the parable saw the man lying on the road he was moved with compassion for him (Luke 10:33), and in the parable of the prodigal son when the father saw his son returning he was similarly moved with this kind of compassion (Luke 15:20). This shows God’s closeness to us when we suffer; Jesus was moved when he saw the widow’s son being carried out for burial, and in the parables, the Good Samaritan was moved when the saw the man on the road and the father was moved when he saw his son returning. God is with us when we suffer. When we suffer we may be tempted in a moment of weakness to think that God has abandoned us but that is not the case at all. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, so to speak. Suffering is always a mystery without a satisfactory answer, but suffering can be an occasion for us to allow God even closer to us into our lives. In each of the three readings today we see people suffering in different ways but also meeting God and being transformed.

How can we meet God and be transformed when we suffer? When we are sick with sin we can receive the mercy of Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we are seriously ill, we can receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. In all our other needs we can approach Jesus in the Eucharist to strengthen us with his grace. If our thinking is skewed like Paul before his conversion, if we have been contaminated by the trash of the world, we can detox by reading Sacred Scripture, reading the lives of the saints, reading spiritual books and spending much time in prayer. God is with us when we suffer. In each of the three readings today we see people suffering in different ways but also meeting God and being transformed. Jesus is moved when we suffer. Reach out to Jesus.

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2016

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

 

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