Third Sunday of Lent

You’ve asked the question at some point in your life, maybe not out loud for other people to hear, but probably to yourself at least, even hoping God doesn’t hear you. I know I have many times. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is tragedy so arbitrary sometimes? Shouldn’t everything make sense somehow? Why do innocent people die in war and random gun violence? Why do unsuspecting tourists and bystanders die in terrorist bombings? Why are innocent human lives lost in tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, crashing planes, derailing trains, sinking ships, colliding cars, and burning buildings? Why do people get cancer, heart disease, nervous system disorders, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, and COVID? Why are children born with birth defects? Why do accidents leave people paralyzed, unresponsive, or dead?

We can conclude quite conveniently that bad things happen as a consequence of evil and sin and malice and neglect and laziness. At times this line of reasoning makes a lot of sense, like when you get an F on a test because you didn’t study, or your car stops running because you’re out of gas. But in other instances, however, it makes absolutely no sense. And when we run out of reasonable answers, we might be forced to go rogue and blame God. It must be God’s will. Yet how could a loving and merciful God bring down disaster, disease, and death upon the innocent, the defenseless, and the weak?

Throughout human history many people have asked these questions. Moses questioned why Israel had to suffer extreme hardship and persecution in Egypt. Some scripture scholars suggest it may be so that God would use their condition to show his glory to the nations, at the expense of Pharaoh and his army.

St. Paul used this same example in his first letter to the Corinthians to direct his listeners to the manner of their own Christian living. He had no answers for why there was suffering in the world, or why Israel suffered greatly in Egypt. But despite that the children of Israel wandered through the desert, crossed the Red Sea, ate bread from heaven, and drank from the rock, God was still not pleased with many of them. And Paul warned them, “If you think you stand secure, take care lest you fall.”

In the gospel reading, Jesus recognized his listeners’ concerns. Yet he did nothing to ease their fears. Instead, he used a widely known incident of accidental death and another of civil unrest to draw his listeners’ attention to how they lived their lives, and be willing to identify the wrongs that must be corrected. As for the elephant in the room, the big gaping question, he offered no insight to make sense of these tragedies.

We would certainly like answers ourselves. But if we did get the answers we wanted, would our lives really be better? We would probably be just as selfish, self-absorbed, and materialistic as we are now. And there would be other questions to torment us still. Instead, God invites us to do all we can to live blameless and upright in all we say and do, to speak words that bring comfort and encouragement, to lend a hand in justice, service, and compassion to those in need because we ourselves have been and continue to be undeserving recipients of God’s gracious favor and mercy.

In this season of Lent, the Holy Spirit repeatedly invites us to a change of heart, a change of attitude, and a new perspective, to die to our selfishness and sin so as to rise in freedom to new life. Moses caught sight of something wonderful on the mountain. And God shared his plan of liberation for his people weighed down under years of cruel hardship and despair. We have set foot on holy ground and been given a glimpse of the glory that awaits those who are faithful. We may still have many unanswered questions as Moses did when he was sent back to Egypt. But he chose to trust that God would make good on his promises to him and to Israel. Despite our questions and the challenges we face living the fulness of our Christian discipleship amid the trials of this world, we are called to be bearers of God’s compassion and boundless generosity to all we encounter. It is not for us to figure out every last mystery life presents us, but only that we heed God’s invitation to repentance and bear fruit in faithfulness.

God indeed has answers for all our questions. But God is not accountable to any of his creatures. God is not obligated to share or explain his plans, not with his mother, not with the pope, not with either you or me. As parents sometimes tell their children to trust that they have their ultimate good in mind at all times, so God calls us to trust that he only desires that we share fully in his divine life. May we strive to emerge with Jesus this Easter a better person, a healthier human being, a more Christ-centered Christian … and not just take up space and use up air.

Rolo B Castillo © 2022