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Suffering as an Opportunity to See God: Sunday of the Blind Man

Fr. Luke A. Veronis

“Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

“Neither he nor his parents sinned,” Jesus replied, “but this happened that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”

In today’s Gospel lesson, we get a glimpse into the problem of suffering.  Many people often ask me, “Why do people suffer?  Why does God allow pain and problems in the world?  The disciples posed this question to Jesus today in the Gospel lesson.  They saw a blind beggar, a man who had been blind since his birth, and they wanted to know why this person was born blind?  Was it because of some sin his parents had committed, or some sin that he did? 

Jesus doesn’t answer the question about why someone suffers. We live in a fallen world, and in such an imperfect world suffering will exist. So Christ doesn’t answer why someone suffers, instead he puts suffering into a new perspective.  How can we turn suffering into something good? How can we glorify God through our difficulties! Christ gave us the greatest example by transforming his own suffering and death into a victory!  He used something negative, the Cross, and came out with a positive result, the Resurrection. And it is not only Christ, but many of the saints of history.  They endured much suffering and pain, they tolerated many difficulties during their earthly lives and transformed them into moments of profound witness for the glory of God.

In today’s epistle reading, we hear how Sts. Paul and Silas were unjustly beaten by rods, and then thrown into prison with their feet locked.  And how do they respond?  They pray and sing hymns to God throughout the night, so that the entire prison could hear.  As a result, a miracle happens and the prison doors are opened.  Paul and Silas, however, don’t use this as an opportunity to escape prison, instead they use it as an opportunity to preach the Gospel and tell others about salvation in Christ.  And as a result, the prison guard himself believes in Christ, he and his whole family are baptized, and they all begin their journey of salvation. Here, Paul and Silas turn their suffering into victory, their affliction becomes an opportunity for the glory of God.

This is our lesson for today - good can come out of suffering, pain and sorrow; these problems are all OPPORTUNITIES for glorifying God.  These are opportunities for the sufferer to show the power and peace of God.  It is easy to say we believe in God when everything is fine.  But when we suffer and face all kinds of problems, it is more challenging.  And yet, this is exactly when we need to show our true belief.

How often are we inspired by examples of people who suffer and yet continue to believe, the saints who are being martyred, and yet during their martyrdom loudly proclaim their love and faith in Christ.

I remember meeting a priest who suffered in an Albanian communist prison for 25 years, and yet could still radiate joy and peace, and share his life without bitterness or anger.  He had turned his suffering into victory. 

I remember meeting a woman who had been paralyzed from her neck down.  However, this tragedy of life did not defeat her.  Instead, she used her handicap as an opportunity to speak on behalf of other disabled persons, lifting up their plight to the rest of the world.  Her witness seemed much greater than a healthy person, because many thought she should be bitter and angry at God.  Instead, she praises God for all things.

St. James writes in the Bible, “Count it all joy when you meet various difficulties, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

St. Paul says, “We rejoice in our suffering, because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Rom5:3-5). 

A true Christian is someone who can take even the worse experiences of life and turn them into experiences which help them grow, help them become better people, help them show others what strength God gives them.  Do you know what an eagle does during a time of storm?  If an eagle is in a position where he cannot find shelter, and a storm is approaching, the eagle will face the storm and set its wings in such a way that the wind of the storm will swiftly lift the eagle high above the storm.  The eagle isn’t defeated by the storm, instead he uses the fury of the storm to take him to a higher level of safety.  We Christians must learn to do the same.

All of us will face various struggles and difficulties in our lives.  Some of us will suffer more than others.  However, as Christians we must look at each situation as an opportunity to show the world how God is still with us!  While others are anxious and worried, can we radiate God’s peace?  When others are complaining, can we find reasons to thank God and rejoice?  While others are feeling insecure, can we use this as an opportunity to enter into the loving arms of our heavenly father and find eternal security?

These moments aren’t the time to complain and despair, but to preach the peace and hope that comes from the good news of Christ.

There is a story of a missionary family who lived in Pakistan.  While there, their six month old child died.  A wise Pakistani elder heard about their grief and came to comfort them.  “A tragedy like this is similar to being plunged into boiling water.  If you are an egg you become hard boiled, hard and unresponsive on the outside.  If you are a potato, however, in the same water you will become soft and adaptable. You must decide if this tragedy will make you hard and unresponsive, or soft and pliable in the hands of God!”

Why do we suffer and face such difficulties?  Jesus answers us today, “This happens so that we have an opportunity for God’s work to be revealed through us; so that people might give glory to His name through our witness in the midst of struggles and suffering!”