MY MOTHER AND BROTHERS ARE THOSE WHO HEAR THE WORD OF GOD AND ACT UPON IT. The Lord Jesus was gentle and humble of heart, as he himself   declared, and it is obvious from the Scriptures that his kindly and approachable ways caused him to be accessible to all kinds of people. Nicodemus, a member of the high aristocracy addressed him with assurance, but so did the simple fishermen of Galilee. Crowds of the common people were enthusiastic in their praises as they listened to his words; even the lepers sought him out with expectation of a favorable reception. At the same time, no one could presume upon his meekness or take advantage of his kindness without discovering that he also possessed a strong and ready sense of worth and a high dignity. He was a free man, as even his enemies and critics recognized. “Master, we know that you . . . are not afraid of any man, because a man’s rank means nothing to you” (Mt 22:16). His meekness was not due to any need to get along with others considered more powerful than he, but was the expression of his loving concern to be available to all in need. However, he set conditions for approaching him: sincerity of intention and the desire to follow where truth leads. He did not encourage passive dependence, but rather called forth from the heart of each the active engagement of the inner person. In practice only to the extent that one displayed such dispositions in the form of trusting faith, did the Lord open himself to those with whom he had dealings.


In today’s Gospel our Lord emphasizes precisely this condition for associating with him as an intimate. He shows no special favor to those joined to him through blood and family ties; rather, they are distanced from him by the mission he follows in obedience to his heavenly Father. “The mother and brothers of Jesus came to be with him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd.”  In response to the announcement of their visit, he takes the opportunity to proclaim a new basis for establishing the claims of intimacy that mark members of a human family. Those whom Jesus acknowledges as his own, those with whom he associates in he closest of relationship are henceforth the men and women “who hear the word of God and act upon it.” We know, of course, that no one ever accepted and acted upon the word of God as did his mother, Mary. What the Lord proclaims in this passage is that if she is acknowledge as his dearest relation her faith is the reason, even more than the claims of physical motherhood. At the same time Jesus here extends an open invitation to each one of us to become a beloved member of his true family, by choosing to welcome the word of God that he himself is, and to act upon faith in him. This choice is all-important. Choice, liberum arbitrium, Saint Bernard maintains, is determinative of identity. By the free choice, the proper exercise of our liberum arbitrium, we are made new in such a manner as to recover the likeness to God that was lost through sin. We become in all truth, in the inmost fibers of our whole being, members of Jesus’ true family.


This is the truth our Lord himself proclaims in today’s Gospel. He makes this declaration today, to you and to me. He goes further: he gives us his very body and blood in this Eucharist as a pledge that even now, weak and unworthy as we be, we belong to him and we are united with him as intimately as a mother, a brother, and a sister are united in love. &        


 SEPTEMBER 30, 2008: JOB 3:1–23; LUKE 9:51–56


WHY IS LIGHT GIVEN TO THE SUFFERING, AND LIFE TO THE BITTER OF SPIRIT? The story of Job is a literary masterpiece that poses a question to life with a powerful voice. The telling of Job’s story addresses every individual person and every generation. The vivid intensity with which it treats the subject of human suffering made the person of Job a symbol. To have the patience of Job is the ultimate in humble endurance under nearly unbearable affliction. One of the reasons for the continuing influence of this work, written around 500 years before Christ, is that it opens up a fresh way of viewing fundamental features of human life. The list of the forms assumed by suffering is long and Job encounters a good number of them: how are we to interpret pain, sickness, misunderstanding by friends, lack of sympathy even from those closest to us, false accusations, sudden loss of possessions, the death of loved ones, the ruin of one’s reputation. Who can hope to avoid one or more of these sources of suffering in a long life? As we learn more about children and adolescents, the sharper grows awareness that the various kinds of suffering and sorrows do not spare the young. In our own country, recent studies reveal an alarming increase of unhappy and psychologically unhealthy experiences of the young. Among other signs of this decay is the alarming number of suicides in the youth as well as the increase of social and moral offences, not only the abuse of alcohol and drugs, but even of murder by adolescents, as our local newspaper recently informs us. Merely to recount the various types and instances of suffering is to risk being labeled “a regular Job.”


The problem is not new by any means. In the nineteenth century Dostoyevski wrote a novel that leaves the reader at the end with the same question that Job raised. The Russian writer managed to state it in a contemporary idiom by the protagonist of his book: “Why are people so wretched?” In the middle of the twentieth century the American poet Archibald Macleisch reworked the story of Job for an American audience in the form of a drama. He named his play pointedly “J. B.” I happened to be studying in Washington when it previewed there, and was struck by the fact that, although the secular perspective of the author led to skeptical conclusion, the power of the theme was such that a sense of reverential awe permeated the audience. Suffering has a sobering effect on every thoughtful person; it leads one to question one’s values, and, as was the case with Job, causes the individual to re-evaluate the very basis of one’s beliefs and values. C.S. Lewis understood the continuing need to address the issues raised by Job in today’s reading, and treated it in a book he entitled “The Problem of Pain.”


The Lord Jesus cast the whole matter of the meaning of suffering in a more vivid setting. He illustrated in his own person as well as in his teaching the need to come to terms with human suffering. He does so in the Gospel we have just heard.. Knowing that he was soon to face death he deliberately went to meet it, sustained by his firm trust that the suffering involved was meaningful for it was undertaken in fulfillment of the Father’s plan. St. Luke states the case in these words: “As the time approached when Jesus was to be taken from this world, he firmly resolved to proceed toward Jerusalem.” Our Lord was to reveal what remained largely hidden to Job. While Job learned from suffering that God in his dealings with humans is not rightly understood if he is considered to be merely just. God is loving and merciful; it is our human limitation that reduces suffering to retribution; it is also an occasion for encounter with the transcendent mystery of God himself in all his purity and power. Only faith in the loving care of the God who created us in his image and likeness can profit from suffering and learn that through its pain we attain to the kind of humble recognition of his wisdom and beauty. When Jesus spoke on another occasion of the need he was placed under to suffer and die, he added that on the third day he was to rise again. The ultimate meaning of suffering, he revealed, for those who accept his word, is the joy of eternal life in the loving presence of God who is our merciful Father.  U   



Abbot John Eudes Bamberger