DO NOT ASK WHY, BUT WHAT NEXT
THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B
Wis 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalm 30; 2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mk 5:21-43
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus meets two people facing the reality of illness: Jairus—the father of a dying girl, and a woman afflicted with hemorrhages. You know, perhaps Jairus had taken his eye off of his little daughter for just a moment, never thinking she would go near the edge of that roof. Or maybe he had warned her a dozen times to stay out of the road when she heard the sound of Roman chariots. We don’t know what caused his daughter’s illness, but we can hear the agony in Jairus’ voice as he speaks to Jesus: “My little daughter is at the point of death.” Consider now the woman who came to Jesus that day. The Gospel says that “she was afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.” Every day had to be a battle for her just to find the energy to handle the simple tasks of living. Her illness likely denied her the comfort of companionship. But, as if that weren’t enough, “she had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had, growing worse.” What does a believer in an all-powerful, all-loving God say to that woman or that father? What does the believer say to families who now wail through the night because a loved one is not coming home? What does a Christian reply to the inevitable “Why?” that rises in the throat when disease strikes? Many sick people I have met in my life asked me: “If as the Scriptures say creation is meant to mirror the character of God, then why are there so many cracks in the mirror?” The question is, then: Is God to blame for creating evil and allowing it to continue happening? What do you think? Well, God does not cause evil in the sense of planning it for us. On the contrary, God grieves over evil the way Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus, do you remember? God hates evil and fights it to the point of sacrificing his life’s blood on the cross. In fact, God enlists his followers in the fight against sin, death, injustice, and all other faces of evil. That begs the question: If God is so seriously opposed to evil, why does he allow us to struggle and suffer the way we do in this life? Isn’t that what we are really wondering when we ask if evil is God’s fault? People have been pondering these questions for two thousand years and hundreds, if not thousands, of books have been written on the subject. But today, in this brief time, let me try to offer a few possible scenarios for you to consider...
First, some of what we experience as evil or suffering is because of the laws of nature in our physical world. Because the world God has given us is physical not mystical, we are able to enjoy the touch of a hand, the taste of chocolate, the smell of perfume, the sound of music, and the sight of a sunset, the passing of the seasons, a fresh spring rain, a summer day. Yet a necessary and wonderful part of the physical world that brings us those gifts is the laws of nature. You can count on a certain stability to life because the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, and so forth don’t change so much. This consistency is a gift of God’s love. But the same physical law by which a mother’s hand stops a baby carriage from rolling into the street will also make a car crash when it piles into another. Or the same laws of radiation that popped the popcorn we enjoyed while watching Netflix last night can in other circumstances cause a gene to mutate and create the disease that pops the bubble of life. We cannot have the good without the risk of the bad. Another consideration is the relational nature of our social world. I mean, God has made us as beings who, like him, dwell in relationships. Relationships are, potentially, our greatest source of joy and meaning. But, if we are open to loving, then we must at the same time be open to losing. The ecstasy of love and the agony of loss are but different sides of the same coin of relational wealth. Would anyone among us exchange the relationship with our daughter or son in order to spare ourselves the pain of losing her or him? Would any of us who have ever hemorrhaged from the heart trade-in our capacity to love so that we never have the risk of pain of loss? I think we are starting to see why God cannot easily spare us from the touch of evil, pain, or suffering. Unless we would prefer the safety of a non-physical, and non-relational world, then we are stuck with a universe in which God cannot spare us from pain without removing the physical, and social framework that brings us so much joy and meaning. God is surely powerful enough to create that kind of cosmos, but he loves us too much to try. Think about that: God can give us a world without pain. But he loves us too much to do it.
So, if we keep asking “Why?” we will never emerge from our pain, suffering and depression. Consider what happens when we have the attitude of the two people who meet with Jesus in today’s Gospel passage. It strikes me that both Jairus and the woman with the flow of blood came to Jesus as if they believed that their suffering was not a completed event but an open one, still full of possibilities thanks to the spiritual grace of God. They come not with the question: “Why is my daughter dying?” or “Why have I been given this illness?” They are not asking who is at fault but instead, “What next, Lord?” What can we do with this circumstance? I know that suffering can certainly leave behind shattered people, but history shows that a struggle with evil, surrendered to God, can shape saints. Christ did not come to do away with suffering. He did not come to explain it. He came to fill it with his presence. So let me invite you to consider this: When we find ourselves stuck—either as individuals or as a community of faith—in the “Why” of evil and the “Who to blame” of pain, either physical or emotional pain, what would it look like to move deeper and ask, “What’s next, Lord? What can you, by your grace, do with this?” As we are about to experience the mystery of the presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, surely, we can also invite Jesus into the presence of our struggles, pain and questions of faith. He promises to be with us always. Because Jesus is telling us today, as he did with Jairus and the woman of the Gospel: “Don’t be afraid; just have faith.” And this, my brothers and sisters, is the Gospel of the Lord.
Fr. Gianni Passarella