Sunday, 03 April 2011 00:00
A theological impasse. In our Gospel reading today, the disciples of Jesus present to him a man born blind and ask for whose sins he is paying, his parents or his own? It was a theological conundrum for Jesus’ disciples; at stake was the credibility of God. If the man were paying for the sins of his parents,God would be unjust for inflicting punishment upon the innocent for the guilt of others. On the other hand, if he were paying for his own sins, God would be equally cruel for punishing an individual anticipatedly, by blinding him at birth for sins he had not yet committed.
Jesus replies succinctly, “Neither due to his parents’ or his own.” Jesus challenged their religious worldview that construed illness and infirmity as punishments from God due to sin. This Lent, might we revisit some of our notions of sin and suffering in relation to redemptive grace and God?
Not death-seeking, but life-giving. God desires fullness of life for all. We suffer not because God is punishing us for our sins, but, often, because our sinfulness causes others and ourselves to suffer. The executions of Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, Ramon Credo and Elizabeth Batain were certainly not ordained by God, but caused by evil and callous international drug syndicates exploiting the desperate poor. God’s wrath has become visible not in the lethal injection of three Filipino drug mules, but in the outrage and grief of their families and an entire people over the senseless deaths of Sally, Ramon and Elizabeth.
Not suffering, but love. Suffering per se is not redemptive; the love underlying the pain is. Many of us Christians tend to glorify suffering, even Jesus’, as though the more the lashes on his back or the deeper his wounds, the more redemptive his suffering. As though the more intense his agony, the more salvific his death.
But if suffering and pain were redemptive in themselves, we would have to welcome abuse and injustice. Masochism would then be a virtue. But a loving God does not desire or is glorified by our suffering. Suffering due to violence and oppression destroys, diminishes and dehumanizes. How then is Jesus’ cross salvific? How then are we saved by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ? Not by his suffering, but by his absolute love for the Father and for us. Jesus’ physical torment and emotional anguish do not redeem us; his willingness to suffer for his convictions and out of love for us is that which saves.
The millions of OFWs deployed all over the world suffer on various levelsseparation and alienation from their families, isolation and loneliness in a foreign land, abuse and exploitation by many of their employers. But many of them readily embrace such great suffering because of a still greater love love for their families. Pope Benedict XVI writes, “consolation is the capacity to suffer for the other.” The tearing apart of families is a social ill; the underpay of immigrant workers a structural evil; yet their capacity to suffer out of love for family is a grace. Paradoxically, their suffering out of love is a virtue.
Not a virtue, but giving rise to virtue. To further clarify, suffering in itself is not a virtue, but evokes virtues. Suffering is not a good in itself, but a conduit of grace that can use even that which is contrary to God’s will to bring about good. The unjust execution of the innocent and holy Jesus is an evil; but the transformation of ignoble sin into the fount of universal redemption is grace.
Those of us who have accompanied loved ones deal with terminal illness have witnessed many of them grow in virtue through the crucible of suffering. Ironically, their immense pain has served as catalyst for patience and endurance, humility and faith to flourish. Mysteriously, too, the suffering of a loved one has drawn out compassion and charity from family and friends. We also have been transformed; we have become more loving persons because of the suffering of our loved ones.
Not intensity of pain, but magnitude of love. If love and not pain is that which participates in the redemptive cross of Christ, then it is worth reflecting this season of fasting and sacrifice that what ultimately matters is not the intensity of our pain, but the magnitude of our love. Our suffering may be incomparable to the anguish of Sally, Elizabeth, Ramon and their families. Nonetheless Jesus on the cross can appropriate our sufferings borne out of love for family and nation into his Sacred Heart, and in hidden ways, incorporate us, our sufferings and all those we love into the mystery of his saving death and resurrection.
Published: The Philippine Star