Thus says the Lord: I know their works and their thoughts, and I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. I will set a sign among them; from them I will send fugitives to the nations: to Tarshish, Put and Lud, Mosoch, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries, to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their offering to the house of the Lord in clean vessels. Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the Lord.(P) The word of the Lord.
Praise the Lord, all you nations; glorify him, all you peoples! (R)
For steadfast is his kindness toward us, and the fidelity of the Lord endures forever. (R)
Brothers and sisters: You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children: "My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges." Endure your trials as "discipline"; God treats you as sons. For what "son" is there whom his father does not discipline? At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.
So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" He answered them, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, "Lord, open the door for us." He will say to you in reply, "I do not know where you are from." And you will say, "We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets." Then he will say to you, "I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!" And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
There is a story of a father cruelly beating his son. Crying out in pain his son asks, "Dad, did your father beat you like this? Father says, "Yes". The son asks, "And your grandfather, did he use to beat your father?" Father says, "Yes". The son asks, "And did your great grandfather beat your grandfather?" "Yes". Then the son shakes his head and says, "So when will this nonsense stop?"
Friends, we know that troubles, afflictions, hardships, difficulties, problems, illnesses and even disasters are a normal part of life and, suffering is an ever present enemy of human beings and has been since the beginning of time and possibly till the end of time. No one can avoid suffering. Not even Jesus, the Son of God, could avoid it. And yet many times we ask, "When will we see an end to suffering? When will this suffering cease?" As said in the letter to the Hebrews, we have perhaps forgotten the teachings on suffering from the Bible. The Bible does not say that God causes suffering. However, from the first page to the last, God teaches us ways to deal with suffering.
All Christians are called upon to deal with suffering through their faith in God. In the last two weeks, we have been studying and reflecting on Christian faith from the perspective of the writer of the letter to the Hebrews. The writer makes an earnest appeal to the oppressed Hebrew Christians to persevere in faith because they are growing weary and losing faith. First, he tells them what true faith in God is. He says, "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen." In other words, faith is being sure or absolutely certain of what we hope for and what we do not see. As a testimony, the writer refers to the faith of their ancestors, particularly the unwavering faith of Abraham who took God at His Word and in obedience to God, acted on His commands, and who saw himself as a pilgrim on earth patiently looking forward to his heavenly home, the Promised Land.
Then the writer exhorts the Hebrew Christians to see Christian life as running a race which requires inspiration, endurance to overcome obstacles and faith to reach the goal where the reward awaits. He sets out reasons why they should cheerfully bear afflictions and hardships that come their way. First of all, the writer reminds them that their Christian struggle has not yet reached the point of fatality or the shedding of blood. So he urges them to derive inspiration, courage and strength from the lives and sacrifices of many great saints of the past who have borne their suffering to the end. Secondly the writer urges them to look to Jesus and bear all sufferings because their suffering is so light and trivial compared with the suffering of Jesus.
In today's text the writer points out another reason for Christians to persevere in their faith. He encourages them to see hardship in life as discipline from God. Through discipline God does not intend to do any harm to humankind but help them reveal their best. Like a responsible and loving parent who disciplines his or her child through some form of punishment, God disciplines humankind for their good so that they may share in his holiness and joy.
William Barclay, a Biblical scholar and theologian, says that there are many ways in which we may look at God's discipline:
People ask why does a good and loving God allow pain and suffering in the world? Friends, God is not the cause of any suffering in the world. Suffering in any form is a part of creation and human condition. How can there be only life but no death? How can there be only joy no sorrow? However, God uses suffering that exists for good. He is teaching us so much through suffering.
Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans (5:3-5) says, "Let us exult in our hardships, understanding that hardship develops perseverance, and perseverance develops a tested character, something that gives us hope, and a hope which will not let us down, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us."
It is so true that suffering can produce benefits that overshadow the suffering itself. It can strengthen us. It can lead us to faith. It can teach us patience and compassion. It can make us more understanding and generous. It can help us appreciate the good in the world. It can remind us of our limitations and dependence on God and one another. It can influence others. It can make us wiser. It can mold us into better persons.
Friends, personally I am not afraid of suffering but I am afraid when there is no suffering. No suffering is like being in a comfort zone where one is wrapped up in oneself and becomes self-centered, self-indulgent and self-seeking. That is the time when we would feel the emptiness. St Jerome says, "The greatest danger of all is when God is no longer angry with us when we sin." In other words, God leaves us alone because we have become unteachable and irredeemable as Jesus says in today's gospel, "You will stand outside knocking and saying, "Lord, open the door for us." He will say to you in reply, "I do not know where you are from"."
Let us therefore cease to wallow in self-pity, or be resentful and rebellious. Instead, let us courageously and willingly accept all kinds of suffering that come our way. Let us strive to enter through the narrow gate. Like Abraham, let us accept suffering with obedience, with love, with joy and with hope. Let us follow the example of our mother Mary who kept everything to herself and suffered silently and willingly but voices her praises to the Lord in moments of joy, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior".(P) Amen.
God Bless You!