Great Suffering, Great Love

The Sunday Gospels in Lent for Year A are particularly poignant and reflective; there’s a reason they may be read at the weekday Masses as well, particularly during Years B and C when they aren’t proclaimed on Sunday. The Samaritan woman at the well is one of my favorite of Jesus’ encounters, and I would love to develop a retreat just around that reading. The story of the man born blind last week gives rise to many questions and points to ponder, especially as these Lenten days approach the darkness and light of the Triduum.

The drama of today’s Gospel seems to rush us even faster towards the holy days, as we experience a glimpse of the hope Jesus has come to give us, as the darkness gives way to light, the despair of death is conquered by the faith of the resurrection.

As I drove to Mass this morning, I was thinking about an aspect of the Lazarus story I had never really thought about before: that Jesus allows Lazarus to suffer. I had always known that Jesus delayed going to his friends at Bethany so that He could show the glory of the Father and do something far greater than heal Lazarus: He could bring him back from the grave. But I don’t think I had really stopped to think about what this meant. It meant He stood by and allowed Lazarus, Mary, and Martha to suffer.

He had the power to alleviate their suffering, and He did nothing.

We don’t know what caused Lazarus’ death – perhaps it was something particularly painful. His sisters had to watch him die. They had to bury him. They had to face life without their loved one.

Jesus could have stopped it. He could have prevented the pain.

Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?

It is not because He did not love Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They were his closest friends outside of the Apostles.

He chose to allow their suffering so that He could show His love is even greater than death.

Suffering is a great mystery. We know that it is evil, it is a result of sin. But we also know that God allows us to suffer so that we can participate in the mystery of the Cross.

Sometimes we see God allowing people to suffer in our daily life, but we look at the Gospels and only see the healings, the exorcisms, the resurrections. Jesus walked this earth and gave men back their sight, gave women back their sons, healed lepers, raised paralytics from their mats. Why does He stand by and allow my loved ones to suffer?

Lazarus was one of his dearest friends. He allowed him to suffer because he loved him. It’s a great mystery, but one we will face every day.

With the greatest suffering comes the greatest love.

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