Often the truths of God seem counter intuitive… they are not what you would expect…. almost going against common sense. It would seem the rich are better off than the poor and should be happier here on earth and in eternity; the poor just get the “short end of the stick”. Well the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in today’s gospel (Luke 16:19-31) seems to counter that conclusion. Certain Lazarus had a tough life for a few years, but is spending an eternity in heaven…the rich man is living the opposite.
There is mystery in all of this… certainly the rich can be holy and go to heaven and presumably the poor can end up in hell. Being poor is not a blessing in itself. Yet often suffering in various forms can bring us to a higher level of love and compassion and holiness.
A friend of my daughter and her family has been serving the disabled in Ukraine for a number of years. On March 5th, she was forced to leave the country with a group of handicap children and youths to escape the bombing…. a horrendous experience. They are now refugees in Germany. She wrote, “ I had no idea how emotionally devastating it is to be a refugee…experiencing such deep sadness at our loss, and unsure how to grieve and move forward. Yes, I worry about the physical things- our home, our dogs, but more than that I grieve the loss of life we had that will never be the same again.” She mentioned that in the past she was somewhat aloof about the immigrants that came to the US and didn’t appreciate how very difficult it was. Her experience has brought her to a whole new level of understanding; her level of compassion is much deeper. (ref. wideawakefamily.com)
Suffering can expand our mind and heart in many ways. When you are really suffering and someone comes to help you, you never forget their kindness. I still recall the kindnesses of health care workers that aided me in some of my sicknesses and hospitalizations in the past. I was hurting and needed help…. and they kindly helped me. In turn, my sicknesses gave me more compassion for the sick. I’ve seen how those who have lost a loved one are able to minister to others going thru a similar loss. There’s a special bond that is present; they understand. They’re able to say, “What, you too … I thought I was the only one.” (C.S. Lewis, Four Loves)
God, who knows what it is to suffer and who experienced every temptation yet without sin, is filled with compassion for the suffering. As we suffer from “outside” injuries and attacks like war, and from “inside” injuries and attacks like sin, we can grow in compassion for others who are suffering. We are more able to say, “ “What, you too … I thought I was the only one.” We can pray for the suffering with a greater intensity and love and compassion …. knowing how hard it is for them.
So suffering is not a lot of fun and we generally try to avoid it. Yet, like the discipline of the Lord, suffering can bring good as we embrace it with God’s grace.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11) And that is very good news.