I. My father died 20 days ago. I’ve been flooded with memories of him—from my young and innocent days, to my not-so-young or -innocent adulthood. He was happy in the good times, and faithful to his family in the hard times: through sickness and addictions, divorce, disappointments, and death. Despite all these struggles and more, my dad, for as long as I can remember, would often declare that if he were to die that day, he would have had a good life.
II. Jesus struggled. We hear today that the Spirit “drove” him into the desert where he encountered temptations, wild beasts, and Satan. This kind of suffering is nothing we desire or seek out. We don’t look for opportunities to struggle: one must be thrust into it, plunged into it. While God doesn’t cause our suffering, the Spirit can make use of these challenges—because it is at our limits, at our weakest, where we meet the power and promise of God. There we learn, finally, that nothing separates us from the love of God, that God will not let us go. Life is always working to bring us to an awareness and acceptance of our poverty, the essential condition of our being able to receive God. Jesus knew that. It was in the midst of his temptations and struggles that the angels ministered to him.
III. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas maintains that suffering is not a problem in need of a solution, but rather, a challenge requiring a response. In other words, in the face of pain, we don’t need an explanation, but love. Jesus didn’t solve the mystery of suffering, but initiated a “community of care,” a community in which the suffering and non-suffering are bound to each other, a community that absorbs suffering and sustains the sufferer, and enables faithful living despite pain and evil. The ministry of bringing new life to the sick and fallen, of being a “community of care,” is entrusted to us, embodied in us, realized through us. I have experienced this “community of care” firsthand as you have reached out to console me on the death of my father.
There are two kinds of people in a faith community: those who suffer, and those who console. Depending on the day, we’re one or the other. Which are you today?
h/t: David Lose