Willingly

Why, suddenly, in October, do we have a Good Friday reading?  We have “done” Good Friday for this year.  We have put it behind us and got on with normal life.  Well, I am obviously being playful.  We are never “done” with Good Friday;  it follows us through the year.

The “offending” reading is, “The Lord has been pleased to crush him with suffering” (Isaiah 53).  I do not know what the original Hebrew says but the Lord is never “pleased” to crush us.  But he is pleased to see us win against the sting of suffering, to “measure ourselves against the obstacle.”  A priest friend of mine visited a sick person this week and, after anointing her, he asked her if she could offer her suffering in union with Jesus for the sake of others? “Willingly”, she replied. My friend was touched by her instant response.

God did not invent suffering.  Nobody really knows where it came from. The Adam and Eve story is hardly satisfying. What we do know is that it can be, if we can accept it in the right frame of mind, healing and purifying. Just this week people have been shocked by the apparent murder of an Arabian journalist and his alleged killers are scurrying around in an unseemly effort to explain it away.  But they are rattled and his death may have a profound effect for good in the end.

I was thinking of this recently when I heard from someone who knew John Bradburne well of his (John’s) fury when he first saw Mutemwa.  The people with leprosy were an appalling sight then (1969).  Yet John knew instantly that he would stay there with them and that it would lead to his violent death. Though there were bright moments, the next ten years were dominated by struggle, suffering, rejection and finally he was shot dead.  Since then countless people have been drawn closer to God through the witness of John.

We will never fully understand it but suffering releases something in us and opens us up – or can do – to the great reality with which we are surrounded (Hebrews 12:1) but which is often hidden from us. John could have walked awy that day in 1969 and we would have known him simply as a deeply spiritual man, nothing more. But he opted to stay, “willingly” though his nature rebelled against it, and in staying he opened the door to many.  And in the process he is now on the way to that honour the Church gives, for the sake of others, to her heroes of the spirit; public acknowledgement as a saint..<

21 October 2018            Sunday 29 B

Isaiah 53:10-11              Hebrews 4:14-16           Mark 19:35-45

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