Ordinary 21st Sunday – SUFFERING: A PRBLEM OR A PATH?

Ordinary 21st Sunday

Is. 66: 18-21                             Heb. 12: 5-7, 11-13                   Lk. 13: 22-30



Developing a right attitude towards suffering can help us to lead a life of fullness.


One of the paradoxes Christ preached was that it is suffering that gives us joy and fullness of life. Though apparently it looks like that suffering is very much against our joy, a deeper perception of life would reveal to us that suffering is indeed a path, in fact the path, to joy. In the second reading, the author of the book of Hebrews delineates how disciplining (i.e. suffering) is closely associated with life and its fullness. In the gospel, Jesus invites us to enter through the narrow gate which is nothing but suffering. In this reflection, let us try to deepen our understanding of suffering.

In the life of each and every human being, there is suffering. The first Noble Truth of Gautama Buddha was, “There is suffering in the world.” The type and intensity of suffering may vary from person to person, but not the reality of suffering. Whether we like it or not, suffering will remain to be part and parcel of us till the end of our lives. We don’t have much of freedom with regard to choice of suffering in our lives – whether to have suffering or not. But we need to know that we have tremendous freedom with regard to choice of our attitude towards suffering  –  how we can approach suffering in our lives.

Suffering & Meaning of Life

Suffering can be broadly categorized into two: suffering with meaning and suffering without meaning. Here it is to be noted that the difference does not lie in the type of suffering we encounter, but in how we approach suffering. If we face our suffering as communication from God, then it is suffering with meaning. Instead, if it makes us sulkier and bitter, then it is suffering without meaning.

The question, ‘why me O Lord,’ or ‘why suffering in my life?’ will lead us to suffer without meaning. Here we try to run away from suffering. But the question ‘how O Lord,’ or ‘How can I encounter suffering in my life?’ will help us to encounter suffering with proper perspective. A right approach towards suffering can help us to discover ourselves, others and God. Suffering can help us to discover ourselves, because it is during the moment of suffering that we tend to tap the hidden potentials and unravel the hereby unnoticed inner treasures. Next, suffering can also help us to discover our neighbours, since in our suffering we understand others’ suffering. Finally it can also take us a little closer to God since suffering reveals to us our vulnerability and that it is God alone who can be our rescuer and strength.  In other words, suffering is that through which God invites us to a life of higher order. That is why the author of the book of Hebrews writes, “Discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Suffering and Fullness of Life:

There is always a gap between what we really are (our true nature) and how we live our lives. Robin Sharma calls it as Integrity Gap. According to him, suffering visits us so that we bridge the Integrity Gap and regain our true nature. The purpose of suffering is to divinize us, not to destroy us. Suffering hurts us in order to instruct us. Quite often instead of learning the instructions, we bemoan the hurt and make our lives more miserable.

It is almost like a boy who is sent by his mother on an errand. On the way, he is attracted towards a street show and spends time there, forgetting the errand, given by his mother. In between mother comes there and seeing him standing there idly, beats him up in order to remind him of his purpose. Imagine that the boy, instead of being reminded of his purpose, gets angry or worried. This is what that happens to us most of the times. Through suffering God invites us to a life of greater meaning and joy. But not knowing this, we become resentful  and bitter.

When we have a positive approach towards suffering, then a realization will dawn upon us that suffering need not be a hindrance to our happiness. Let us take St. Paul for example. He was a person who suffered so much. In 2Cor. 4:10; 6: 4-6; 11: 23-28, he very painfully narrates the sufferings he underwent in his life. These passages reveal to us that St. Paul suffered all through his life. However he was the person who gave the injunction “Rejoice in the Lord, always.” I believe that it was not merely an injunction, rather his own experience. He did not see his sufferings as hindrance to his happiness. Rather in and through sufferings, he rejoiced. This is very clear when he speaks of himself “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2Cor. 6: 10 ). So suffering need not be an obstacle, but a path to our happiness.

About the Author