In the first reading from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, God said: “stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them.” The reading goes on to say, “They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
A lot of people look to the scriptures when they are suffering in some way, for guidance, comfort and hope. In this reading, God is on the side of the prophet Jeremiah, and he promises Jeremiah that his enemies will not prevail over him. God told Jeremiah that He would be with him and deliver him from his enemies. If you were going through a trial or suffering of your own, and you read these words in sacred scripture, you might wonder, “God helped the prophet Jeremiah, so why won’t He help me?”
Then, when we move on to today’s gospel, John the Baptist’s enemies did triumph over him, and had him beheaded. Where was God then? Why did he permit this to happen to John the Baptist, after all he had done for God and for His son? Of all people, John the Baptist deserved God’s protection and help.
Jesus once told his disciples, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist”. (Mt 11:11) And yet, God allowed John to languish in prison, and end his holy and righteous life, by having his head cut off at the whim of an immoral woman.
Why didn’t God do anything to stop it? Didn’t He care about John or hear the prayers that he surely prayed during the long days and nights in prison? If you remember, an angel of the Lord later led Saint Paul out of prison in the middle of the night, so why couldn’t God have done the same for the man that Christ called, the greatest of men that had ever been born of women?
Sometimes God strengthens, defends, blesses, and heals people, and sometimes it feels like He doesn’t even hear our prayers or care what we are going through.
But, before we beat ourselves up too much over this, we should remember His own son’s words, spoken from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The very human side of Jesus felt the same way we do sometimes, in the middle of our own suffering. We have a friend, who has been through all the same feelings we have, and he understands what we are going through, much better than anyone else ever could. That’s why it is important to rely on Jesus, during our own trials and sufferings.
We participate in the cross of Christ, through our own suffering. Since we are saved through the death and resurrection of Christ, we must also participate in his passion for our own salvation. Remember that Jesus said:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” ~ Mt 16: 24-25
It was God’s will that John the Baptist decrease in the public eye, so that His son could become more prominent. In other words, it was God’s will that John the Baptist die. It was also God’s will that His own son die. But, it was not His will that the prophet Jeremiah die.
Sometimes it is God’s will that people accomplish a specific purpose, like the prophet Jeremiah did, by their lives. And, sometimes, it is God’s will that people accomplish a specific purpose for their lives, by their suffering, or even their death, like John the Baptist and Jesus did.
Our suffering or lack of suffering, is according to God’s own purposes, not necessarily because of anything we did, or what we personally want. Our very life itself, is lived at His good pleasure.
We do not understand the larger plan He has for our lives, let alone the lives of our family, and the human family, throughout mankind’s history. We just have to trust Him, that He knows what is ultimately best for our lives and those we love, for the long term.
Today’s second reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians has a good thought for the day:
“We proclaim Christ crucified … For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom …”
We proclaim Christ crucified when we join our sufferings with his, and trust in God’s will for our lives, even if we do not fully understand it, just like Saint John the Baptist did.
Daily Mass Readings:
Jeremiah 1: 17-19 / Psalm 71 or 33 / 1 Corinthians 1: 17-25 / Mark 6: 17-29