Someone once pointed out to me that Jesus didn’t cure all the sick in Israel. We were discussing the mystery of suffering, so it sounded like a nice thought at the time, and I accepted it without much thought. But it bothered me later. How do we know? In Matthew 13 we hear that Jesus did not perform many miracles in his hometown because of their lack of faith (Mt 13:58), but Mark’s account says he didn’t do much … except cure some sick people (Mark 6:5). So where are these sick that he didn’t cure?
A few weeks later I was at daily Mass; it happened to be the Wednesday of the octave of Easter. That day always boasts two of my favorite readings. The Gospel is the road to Emmaus and the first reading is Peter’s cure of the beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple in Acts 3. I love how when Peter turns to the beggar, the guy expects a little money, but then Peter declares, “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
That day, it was as I heard that story for the first time. I was struck with a little thought. If this man had been sitting by the Beautiful Gate every day, and had been crippled since birth, wouldn’t Jesus have walked by him too?
Of course, we don’t know for sure, but it’s worth thinking about. Perhaps the man never asked to be cured. But we have the story of the paralyzed man in John 5 who didn’t ask, either. Jesus saw him by the Sheep Gate and initiated the conversation himself.
Why didn’t Jesus cure this beggar? We may not know the backstory, but we do know one thing. It was not because Jesus didn’t love him.
The plan was bigger. Maybe the beggar had seen Jesus come and go and had heard the stories. Maybe he wondered why so many had been cured, but not him? Like so many of us, he could see the thread in front of him but not the whole tapestry.
It can be hard in the midst of suffering to see why God is letting us bear the burden, seemingly alone. Why do others not suffer like we do? Or why are others relieved of their pain while we continue to suffer? Perhaps we are waiting for Peter.
Hundreds of thousands of words have been spilled on the subject of suffering, and it still remains a mystery. It still remains difficult. We must not think that the Church ever teaches otherwise. We are reminded, however, that as mysterious and difficult suffering is, it doesn’t have to be pointless.
A friend asked me recently how exactly someone “offers something up.” She laughed at herself for asking the question, thinking it was a ridiculous one and she should already know the answer. After all, we hear all the time that we’re supposed to do it. But does anyone tell us how? I didn’t think her question was ridiculous at all.
I suggested that there was nothing wrong with asking God to take the suffering away. After all, we don’t believe pain and suffering are in and of themselves good! But in the next breath, we tell God that if it’s not his will the pain disappear, we let him use it for good. Maybe you have a particular friend or family member that is going through a rough time.
“God, this headache is terrible, and if it’s your will, could you please make it go away? But I’d like to give it to you for my friend Mary. She’s going through a rough spot right now, and if I can struggle through this headache for her sake, could you maybe alleviate some of what she’s going through?”
I’m a pretty imaginative person, so sometimes I even picture putting my pain in a nice box, wrapping it with a little ribbon, and placing it right in front of the altar. “Here you go, God. Here’s my headache, and I’m going to not complain about it to my coworker like I’d really like to do right now. I’m not going to bite her head off, either, even though the pain is throbbing in my temples. Instead I’m going to offer it up for a refugee from Syria. I’ll never know on this earth who they are, but pick the one that is suffering the most and any grace I get from suffering in silence, please give it to him or her today.”
You might also find it helpful to connect your suffering to something Christ suffered. “Jesus, I have a terrible headache. But I realize it is nothing like you experienced with the crown of thorns. Whenever I’m tempted to complain about this pain, help me remember what you suffered for me in silence. I’d like to unite this little suffering with what you did for us on Good Friday, as a little tiny way to make reparation for my sins and the sins of the world.”
That’s at least a start. Nothing fancy. No magic words. Just an attempt to “offer up” what we suffer and give it a purpose. Can you imagine the revolution we would start if everyone began offering up sufferings? We all have them, and most of them probably go by wasted. Even something as small as a difficult commute, an annoying neighbor, or a lukewarm cup of coffee can be offered up when they can’t be changed.
In the beautiful tapestries of our lives, it might be God’s will that our loved ones are cured or our own pain is alleviated. But no one’s lives will be entirely free from all suffering. Some days Christ may seem to pass us by while we wait at the gate. It’s not because He doesn’t love us. It’s because His plan is bigger. Are we willing to cooperate?