In the readings for Sunday, Sept. 16, we’re reminded that suffering is a part of life and potentially salvific.
by Jen Schlameuss-Perry
See, the Lord GOD is my help; who will prove me wrong?
I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living. Praise the Lord, my soul!
So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
You can read the full text of this Sunday’s readings here:
Suffering is a part of life that any of us gladly would avoid if we had the option. We don’t like to suffer ourselves, and our heart breaks when we see others suffer. Today’s readings speak to the reality of suffering, and the reality that we have the ability to alleviate it in others.
The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah is a recounting of his own mistreatment as well as a foreshadowing of what would happen to Jesus. Isaiah and Jesus both spoke boldly the truth of God and were tortured for it.
James’ famous “faith without works” reading is a challenge to us to challenge suffering when we see it. It is not enough, he says, to feel bad for people in need. We must respond to their need with action. He goes so far as to say that if we don’t address that suffering in a real, tangible way, our faith is dead. We’ll never be able to wipe it all out, but we are commanded to do what we can for those in front of us without judgement.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks who everybody says he is. Peter, in a rare moment, has the right answer: He is the Christ. But Peter rebukes him when Jesus explains what being the Christ means. He will suffer and die, like the smaller “Christs” of God, particularly the prophets. (Remember “Christ” means “anointed one” and priests, prophets and kings were all anointed for God’s work.)
Peter wants Jesus to avoid his destiny. Jesus lashes out in a way that some might feel is overboard or a little harsh, but is really necessary. Peter is not thinking as God does. God knows that suffering is a temporary reality with the potential to save the world. Suffering can lead individuals to new awareness, reliance on God, reparation of relationships, faith. Suffering leads to all kinds of great things, because God never lets our suffering go unchallenged.
A better response from Peter could have been to offer Jesus comfort in his suffering by staying awake when Jesus needed him, or not denying him or not running away. We’re all tempted to avoid those who are suffering, like Peter did, but God calls us to be with them (and let others be with us when we need help).
Have you ever helped cheer someone up, or helped them when they were sick or hurt? How did it make them feel? How did it make you feel?
Have you ever seen something good come out of an experience of suffering (like compassion, perspective, healing)? Do you see any value in suffering, or is it all for nothing?
How can you be more present to people who are suffering in your life? Do you allow others to be present and helpful to you when you experience suffering?
James reminds us that “faith without works is dead.” What act of faith or good work can your family do this week to enliven your own faith and strengthen the faith of another?
A little lectio
The ancient practice of prayerfully reflecting on bits of Scripture is known as lectio divina. Want to try it out with your family? Head over to Lectio Divina for Kids to find out how to adapt this prayer practice for your kids.
A little Bible study
Want to do a little Bible study with your kids? Here are some tips:
- During Ordinary Time, the Church pairs the Old Testament and New Testament readings in a way that each sheds light on the other. Ask your kids to look for the common theme connecting the two readings. (Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it is subtle.) How does the “dialogue” between the readings help you understand them better?
- Get a New American Bible, Revised Edition, and take a look at the footnotes for these readings. How do they change your understanding of what is going on?
- Take a look at the context for the readings—what happens before, or after?
- Read the NABRE’s introduction to the book of the Bible that the readings are taken from. How does that help you understand the readings?
- If you don’t have a copy of the NABRE at home, you can view it online at the USCCB website at the Daily Readings web page. (The link will take you to today’s reading; click forward or backward on the dates to get to Sunday’s readings.)
For even more resources for breaking open this Sunday’s readings, head over to The Sunday Website.
The image for Breaking Open the Word at Home is taken from a 17th century illuminated manuscript by an anonymous (but very talented) artist. The text is from the beginning of the Book of Sirach, chapter 1, verses 1-12, which begins: “All wisdom is from the Lord and remains with him forever.”