Relief from Our Suffering

Though the jetlag lingers a bit, I find myself energized by the prospect of sharing my experiences in the Holy Land with you. Early on our first day together, our guide pointed out that the country he would share with us is as much our homeland as his own. “You know all of these places,” Yossi told us. “Nazareth and Capernaum, Magdala, Cana and Jerusalem are as familiar to you as they are to me. You have heard their names since you were little children.” Throughout the days that followed, I took Yossi’s observation to heart. Every step of the way, I realized more fully that Yossi was absolutely right. I had indeed come home…

When I turned to today’s scripture passages, I imagined Yossi offering one of his enthusiastic narratives. This archaeologist and scholar of biblical religions cited Job, Paul, Peter and Jesus often. I should have taped Yossi’s commentaries because he referenced human suffering quite eloquently. Today’s scripture readings remind us that suffering is a constant in our earthly existence. In the excerpt from the Book of Job (7:1-4, 6-7), Job finds himself the victim of Satan’s folly. Though Job is a just man, God allows Satan to test Job’s faith. Satan creatively sees to it that Job loses his family, his home and his wealth. Job finds no consolation in his friends because they wrongly attribute Job’s misfortune to sinfulness on Job’s part or that of his forefathers. As his circumstances worsen, poor Job makes no secret of his misery. Job grumbles incessantly to the Lord God because he knows God is listening. In the end, it is with great love that God responds. Job lives out what remains of his life at peace with himself and at peace with God’s friendship. Though our guide Yossi who was raised in a socialist Kibbutz claimed not to be able to pray, he reminded us often to do as Job did and to cry out to God for peace in this world.

Saint Paul offers another perspective regarding suffering. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23), Paul tells us that, rather than grousing about his situation, he embraces it. Like Job, Paul experiences a close encounter with God which completely overwhelms him. In response, Paul immerses himself in God’s ways. He goes on to do everything possible to share his perspective with all who will hear him. Paul preaches because he finds it impossible to keep God’s wonder to himself. He knows that the eventual outcome will be everything and more than he hopes for. Though Paul suffers much in the process, he considers his story to have unfolded well, just as Job’s did. It seems that Yossi shares Paul’s conviction. Though Yossi often lamented the political climate in Israel, he always added that he believes peace in his homeland will be a reality one day.

Today’s gospel (Mark 1:29-39) brings me back to the ruins of Peter’s home in Capernaum. It was here Yossi shared that, when one uses the bible as a roadmap, it often leads to archeological finds which confirm the settings of given passages or events. This excerpt begins as Jesus and his friends leave the synagogue in Capernaum. They feel very good about Jesus’ work among the people that day and they walk together to Peter’s house to share a meal. When they arrive, they discover that Peter’s mother-in-law is very ill. Jesus goes to her bedside where he takes her hand and cures her. The woman immediately gets up and prepares a meal for her guests. As I stood above the ruins of Peter’s home, I wondered what Peter’s mother-in-law thought about his friends and their assumptions regarding her culinary handiwork. She must have met their expectations because Peter and the rest were energized enough to usher Jesus off to cure more of the sick. Capernaum is a small town and there isn’t much distance to walk before Jesus encounters those in need. While Jesus spends the day curing and consoling, his efforts take their toll. After spending the night at Peter’s house, Jesus rises much earlier than the others. He goes off to a deserted place to pray. Jesus knows well that this time will truly replenish his spirit. Afterward, Jesus faces another day’s demands by spreading Divine Love along the way. As for Yossi, he didn’t knowingly go off to pray. However, he did frequently lose himself in his music. Though Yossi claimed to play his flute to demonstrate the amazing acoustics of a given site, I think he also replenished his spirit with every note which floated heavenward.

It occurs to me that, though most of us cannot claim to bear burdens equal to those of Job, Paul and Jesus, our burdens are heavy nonetheless. When we remember to turn to God as they did, we find the strength to carry on. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts Yossi shared with me and my fellow travelers was his openness to prayer. Though this self-proclaimed secular Jew could not turn to God with his words, he raised himself to heaven every time he played his flute. Like Job, Paul and Jesus, he reminded us to manage even the most devastating of our suffering by retreating into God’s loving company.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


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