Jules Does

Posts Tagged ‘suffering

[Oh look, another late post! Whoops.]

The readings for Monday of the third week of Lent are a lot like the ones I wrote about on the 17th (Wednesday of the first week), in that the Old Testament reading describes a non-Jew’s response to the message of God as conveyed by His prophet, and the New Testament reading features Christ naming this non-Jew as the sort of person from whom the Jews could stand to learn a little about God’s love. Obviously the same things I discussed then about humility and contrition apply here, but rather than cut-and-paste my thoughts again, I’d rather focus on a section from the Old Testament reading and use it to think about Lent.

So, Namaan comes to Israel for a cure from Elisha (prompted by his slave girl, who is a captured Israelite – again, God uses one person’s horrible situation to change the course of the lives of others), but is offended when the cure suggested is almost laughably simple: go bathe in the Jordan 7 times. Namaan scoffs and is prepared to leave, but his servant reminds him that Namaan would have gone to huge, heroic lengths if that was the advice given, so why not do this small thing, if that is what is asked?

Reading the lives of the saints, it’s easy to think that the way to live one’s faith to the fullest is to live in a constant blaze of glory. Saints are always doing hugely dramatic things – escaping death, being gruesomely tortured, going to far-flung places to spread the Gospel, living on pillars, working God’s miracles, giving up everything to nurse the sick and dying – and sometimes, to be perfectly honest, it gets me down. Facing down hostile monarchs is all very well, but what am I to do here, in this life? I have a husband and a child, I can’t very well go and live on a pillar in the desert!

If you feel a similar way, then I have just the saint for you: St Therese of Lisieux. When she was a teenager, St Therese joined the Carmelite Order and became a cloistered nun, which meant that she never left her convent. Like, ever. During her brief life, she developed a way of behaving called ‘The Little Way’, where what really mattered was doing small things with great love.

That’s it. No scaling of impossibly high mountains, no fasting for six days out of seven, no becoming amazingly impervious to flames. Just doing small things with great love. This included being nice to nuns she found irritating, or being really diligent in her tasks in the convent garden and kitchen. Nothing glamorous or thrilling, just little things. What set Therese apart was that, in her heart, she was doing everything to the best of her ability and all for the love of God.

I really identify with Namaan, because I think somewhere, deep down, I believe I’m supposed to be doing something really exciting and extraordinary for God, like moving to the darkest Amazon and translating the Bible into indigenous languages while swatting mosquitoes and delivering babies with no electricity or medical training, or suddenly getting stigmata during a 24-prayathon. It’s almost like I think that my current life is too ordinary and tedious to be what God wants me to do. But St Therese shows how God can be calling us to do the little things in life, not only because the people who are off doing huge things need the support of other people (who have things like jobs and so forth) in order to help them achieve such greatness for God, but also because we can find God in the little things as well.

I like to think that I would be willing to do something really tremendous and difficult for God, but I often overlook the fact that my fairly domestic life has the capacity to be really tremendous just by being lived authentically and with love. It is possible to meet God in housework, in childrearing, in rest, in shopping, in domestic life, just as it’s possible to meet him on the top of a pillar or during horrible torture and death. What matters above all is what’s in our hearts and whether or not we have the humility to do what God has asked of us, whether that’s flying to the moon or doing the dishes. Holiness is absolutely within our reach if we will reach out with love and humility.

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[Note – I know this post is 2 days (!) late, but the readings were so good that I didn’t want to skip it.]

So, today’s readings are a bit of a downer! In the first reading, Joseph is thrown into a well and then sold into slavery by his brothers because he keeps having these dreams in which they (or representatives of them) bow down before him, and their pride is so wounded that they decide to murder him. Over dreams. And a coat.

The Bible is full of terrible people.

The second reading isn’t much better – Jesus tells a parable of a group of tenants who are so dementedly possessive that they repeatedly assault and/or kill representatives of the landowner who, it should be noted, isn’t even trying to throw them out! He only wants the portion of the land’s produce that is due to him. Hardly unreasonable behaviour. The parable alludes to Jesus’ impending death and the opening up of the Kingdom of God to non-Jews and other unmentionables who were not exactly on the Pharisees’ side of the fence. Again, this passage makes for rather gloomy reading.

However! The key to today’s readings is in the Psalm for today. It summarises what happens to Joseph after he is sold into slavery: he is brought to Egypt, where he successfully interpreted the Pharaoh’s dream and helped the land prepare for seven years of famine. For me, the key verse is this one: “He sent a man before them, Joseph, sold as a slave”. The Greek for this verse literally means “to send to”, but I quite like the possible double meaning of “send before”, as in “to send previously”. God had famine in store for the Egyptians, but He also sent someone to them before the famine took place in order to help insulate them from the worst of it.

Similarly, although the parable ends in death and destruction, the Psalm helps reminds us that Christ has come so that we don’t necessarily have to be thrown out of the vineyard, so that we can stay and reap the bountiful harvest. Out of the suffering of Joseph and of Christ, an entire people can find a homeland (literal or metaphorical) – their suffering has a redemptive purpose.

It may not have been apparent to Joseph, sitting in that well waiting to be sold into slavery by his own family, and it may not always be apparent to us when we are suffering, but God can use our suffering and our pain to work wonders for many people – in Joseph’s case an entire country, in Christ’s case the entirety of humanity. I know “everything happens for a reason” is an awful thing to say to anyone who is going through something horrible, but we can draw strength from the tale of Joseph, stuck in a hole in the ground, and God’s gigantic plans for him.

Are you sitting in a dry well? What is limiting your vision of God’s plans for you? I pray that you will have the strength to trust God until your horizons open up a bit more and you can see how He can work in and through your pain.

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