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God's Word on Sunday: Suffering Servant sets example for us all

  • October 10, 2021

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 17 (Year B) Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 33; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45

“It was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.” These words should leave us a bit — maybe even a lot — uneasy and puzzled.

Granted, Isaiah was speaking of the unknown Suffering Servant — an anonymous figure in the Babylonian exile of the mid-sixth century BC. But this prophetic passage would later be applied to Jesus by the writers of the four Gospels. If so, we could ask why the Lord would want to crush His son — or anyone else — with pain. God is not a sadist, and there is no intrinsic value in pain and suffering.

Great care must always be taken in the teaching of Christ’s life and mission and the meaning of the crucifixion. In the wrong hands, it can valourize human misery and injustice under the guise of “the cross.” The mission of Christian disciples — and all people — is to comfort and heal human suffering and to work towards eliminating the causes.

Seeing the description of the Servant in its entirety sheds a little light on the role of suffering in his life. His entire life was an offering for sin; not only did he suffer physically, but also from ridicule, contempt and rejection. The Servant bore witness to the will of God, setting him in opposition with the lesser wills of so many.

His mission was not to suffer but to bear witness and be utterly faithful to the end, regardless of the consequences. This was the Lord’s will, not the suffering in itself. The prophecy focused on the good that would come from that suffering — light and life for many and an example for all to follow.

Redemptive suffering is something done consciously, deliberately and with correct intentions. It is not merely enduring things with a stiff upper lip. And it is not something that can be inflicted on anyone by others.

Some inexplicable suffering comes our way completely unbidden — as they say, “stuff happens.” These events and situations will have redemptive meaning and value only by our actions and intentions.

The redemption and healing of souls was likely the driving force behind the mission of Jesus. To accomplish His mission, He was required to assume human nature and experience the entire human condition except for sin.

His suffering definitely had meaning and value, for it enabled Him to empathize with human beings in their suffering and struggle. His high priesthood was formed by the suffering He experienced while remaining always united with God the Father.

We are assured that we can always approach the throne of mercy without fear. Jesus has been there; He knows. The amount of comfort and guidance that we will be able to offer others depends on our acceptance of our humanity and that of others and our willingness to show compassion and mercy.

Some things remain fairly constant throughout history and human self-seeking and competitiveness are at the top of the list. James and John coveted the two seats of honour and authority next to Jesus when He entered His kingdom. It must have been disappointing for Jesus to hear their request — obviously, they had not been listening to His teachings with their hearts.

He pointed out that in His kingdom, power and authority were linked with suffering. He asked if they were prepared to pay that price, and they naively and glibly assured him they were. Just the same, they didn’t get the select seats, they were already spoken for.

The others were furious at this naked power grab by James and John. Jesus invited them to consider how the Greco-Roman culture around them was structured. Very hierarchal and top down, based on domination and force.

He insisted that His followers not take on these patterns of human relationships. In His kingdom, power, authority and “greatness” were based on love and humble service. In other words, the values and way of living in God’s kingdom were the opposite of what humans are used to.

Unfortunately, the Church did indeed adopt many of these human patterns over the centuries, complete with its emphasis on power and pomp. It’s a classic case of forgetting some of the Lord’s most important teachings and overemphasizing others. But we can remember, and we can change.

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