Readings:1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Psalm 118; John 19:25-27 / Luke 2:33-35
To link suffering with sin seems to come very naturally to human beings. Many of the great texts of the Old Testament struggle with it - Job above all, but many of the psalms as well. It comes through again and again in the New Testament: 'is it because he sinned or because his parents sinned that this man was born blind?' A cousin of mine dying from cancer said to me shortly before her death 'I must have done something very bad to have ended up like this'. Deep down we continue to make this link: if I am suffering it is because I have sinned.
The Church in its theology has not always resisted the temptation either, to think that if we are to understand suffering we must talk in the first place about sin. So the suffering and death of Jesus has been understood in relation to sin - a sacrifice to take sins away, a redemption, a price paid. The Father's righteous anger must be calmed, the damage to His justice must be undone, the balance must be restored. And so the Church's teachers have ended up in strange places, asking strange questions, pursuing a strange logic: is the death of the Son something owed to the Devil? or to the Father? why is it exactly that Christ had to die? Did Christ have to suffer and die to take away the sins of the world?
The great good news, and the new way of thinking to which Jesus invites us to be converted, is that when we think of suffering, we must talk now in the first place about love. Not about sin, about love. He engages untiringly with the forces of evil - suffering, demons, moral failure, spiritual blindness. He could have cured all this with a click of his fingers. In some cases he did cure people from a distance, without ever laying eyes on them. He did not need to die in order to heal people and free them from the consequences of sin.
He came to reveal to us the mystery of the Father's love and because he was - and is - the presence of love in a sinful world he suffered and was put to death. It is about sin in the second place but about love in the first place. This is what happens to love in a sinful world. He could have remained outside our world and done the work that was needed. But he entered into our world, sent by the Father who loved the world so much, so that the divine love would penetrate to the heart of our world and heal and save it from there. And this is what happens to love in our world: it is rejected, ignored, taken for granted. It is an opening to suffering because love makes us sensitive to the pain of the ones who are loved.
Mary above all has this sensitivity because she is a woman of such great love. She is 'full of grace' and so completely sensitive to the divine love. First believer, first disciple of her Son, she is also the first to ponder the mystery of the divine love revealed in Him. She stands closest to him in the moment of his suffering and death when his love for the Father and for humankind is most powerfully revealed and established. At the heart of our sinful world. Not in a perfect world, a tidied up world, a world well organized. But in the mess we create, the world as it is because of our fears, our selfishness, our indifference.
As we ponder the suffering and death of Christ let us think firstly then of love, and take heart that God has dwelt among us, has come to live and love at the heart of our world, taking its suffering on himself, immersing himself in it, so that from there he might transform it into a new creation, the kingdom of eternal love.