In today’s Gospel, Jesus is going to Jerusalem and He tells his followers He will suffer and die at the hands of his enemies. Peter comes up and says, “Lord, this cannot be; we will not allow it to happen.” Jesus says to him, “You are like Satan; you are tempting me. You are encouraging me not to do what my Father in heaven wants me to do.” (To see the words of the gospel, click here.)
Jesus says, if we want to follow Him, we must imitate Him and accept a cross. All of us have to take up our cross. When we talk about a cross, it means suffering. Suffering is hard to understand. We do not know why suffering happens to us. We ask why is something bad happening to us, why is this trouble happening to us?
The problem is, if we really believe God is good, loves us, wants the best for us, then we have to ask, “Why is He letting all this pain, this trouble, this suffering touch us.” We can fully understand this? No, not here on earth, maybe not even in heaven. And I can explain it to you clearly? No, I cannot.
But some ideas may help us understand suffering a little bit. First in the Old Testament, the Bible written before Jesus, there is a story of a man named Job. It is his name; it does not mean “work”; it is a name. Job was very good; he obeyed God’s law fully. Then God let Satan tempt him. God let Satan destroy all his houses, all his property, take all his animals and his wealth and kill his children. His friends come and tell Job, “This is happening to you because you are guilty of sin. You did something very seriously wrong. God is punishing you.” Job says, “No! I am innocent. I am not guilty; I obey God’s law fully.”
Job does not understand why all this is happening to him. Then God appears to him and asks him, “Do you know everything? Do you understand everything? Do you understand how the stars come into being? how the sun rises and sets? Do you understand?” Job is honest and says, “Lord, I do not understand everything; I do not know everything.” The Lord says to him, “You must trust me. You are having a hard time. But I still want the best for you; I still love you. Trust me, you must.” That was the way to understand suffering in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament we have the example of Jesus. Do we fully understand from Jesus why we suffer? No. We look at Jesus; we see his suffering; he was whipped, beaten by the soldiers, nailed to the cross. We say to God, “Why do you allow this to happen to your precious Son. You sent him from heaven to come here on earth, and you are letting him suffer so much. Jesus has done so much to heal people, to teach them your love. Why is he suffering on the cross, why?” We know part of the answer; Jesus suffered to save us so that we can be united with God. Jesus suffered so we can have God’s grace in our lives to do good for other people, to change us to become holy people. Jesus suffered, and now we have Jesus Himself living within us. We have the example of Jesus to show us that suffering because of love accomplishes much good in our lives. Does that fully explain why we suffer? No. But because we suffer, because we must take up our cross, we are able to be more united with Jesus, closer to Him, joined with Him more fully; we become more like Him. Jesus saves us by His suffering. Now when we patiently suffer with Jesus, we help save other people.
Because we unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Jesus, we become more like Jesus. We become more humble. When we suffer, we must set aside our selfishness. The “I” “I” “I,” we have to set aside; we cannot be selfish and think about ourselves always. Suffering helps us to have compassion, understanding, patience with people who are suffering. In this way we grow; we become more like Jesus. Why? Because of our suffering, because of our frustration, because of our limitations, because we must stop thinking about “me” always.
Sometimes, God’s plan for us is that we suffer by letting go of something we dream about, hope for, want very much. Sometimes we need to let go of something so that God can give us something better in our lives.
Let me tell you a story, a story about a young man named Eugene Orowitz. He was a sophomore in high school in New Jersey. He was thin, not very strong. One day he was in gym class; the coach was trying to teach the class to throw a javelin, a long spear. The best distance was about 30 yards. Then he asked Eugene, “Do you want to try it?” No one thought he could throw it far. He picked it up and inside he felt like a brave warrior defending his people. He threw the javelin. It landed 50 yards away, farther than anyone else threw it. He realized he had a talent for this. He practiced every day for months. He was able to throw it almost 211 yards; he won the high school national championship. He was going to get a scholarship to college. Then one day he had an accident; he hurt the ligaments in his shoulder. His hope to go to college and become a star athlete was finished. His dreams for his future were lost. It was the most disappointing thing that happened to him in his young life.
After high school he found a job in a warehouse. There he met a young actor who was struggling with a play. The actor asked Eugene to help him practice some lines. Eugene accepted, and then he became interested in acting, so he went to acting school. Then he had a great opportunity to be on a television show. He changed his name to Michael Landon. He became a big star on television for many, many years. He accomplished so much in his life, more than he dreamed about in high school. The accident was bad when it happened, but it changed his life so that he had a better life.
Sometimes the Lord has plans for us, that we do not know. Sometimes suffering happens in our lives. We wish suffering did not happen, but it is part of God’s plans for us to make us happier, to make us better people, to make us more humble people. Then we can do what the Lord wants us to do. Suffering is never easy. But it can unite us to Jesus more fully. Suffering can help us accomplish what God wants for us; suffering can be part of God’s plan for us. We do not understand when it happens, but we need to trust that God will make something good come from our suffering.