Third Sunday of Lent
What is the relationship between sin and suffering? One way of looking at it is that suffering is the result of sin. This seems to be the message of many old testament prophets, who would often declare that various calamities suffered by the people of Israel were, in fact, punishments from God on account of their sins. There is great truth to this view. You reap what you sow, so if you wish to reap well, you must sow well. Work hard now and do what is right, and you’ll be glad later.
However, this view does not account for all human suffering. Sometimes we experience more suffering than our sins deserve. In the gospel, Jesus discusses the case of the Jews whose blood had been mingled with pagan sacrifices, a gross outrage for any Jew. He also discusses the eighteen people who were killed when a tower fell on them. The amount of suffering these people endured stands out from the rest, so, one might ask, did their sins also stand out from the rest?
The answer Jesus gives is “by no means!” Just because these people suffered more than others, that does not prove that they had sinned more egregiously than others. And yet, with a master stroke, Jesus retains the connection between sin and suffering. “If you do not repent,” he says repeatedly, “you will all perish as they did!” If we wish to avoid suffering, we must avoid sin!
Implicit in Jesus’ answer is a distinction between types of suffering. There is physical suffering, such as Christ endured on the Cross, which none of us has the power to avoid forever, and there is spiritual suffering, which is the effect of sin. It is alienation from the God who created us, redeemed us and loves us. May we remain close to that God, even as we suffer, and may he give us the grace to repent from sin.