Isn’t it amazing that 2500 years ago when the first reading from Job (7:1-4, 6-7) was written, they were asking the same questions that we still ask today? ‘Why do we have to work so hard? What is the point of it all? Why is our life often so difficult? Why is it that good people often suffer so much for no apparent reason?’ Throughout the centuries you’ll find that people continually ask the same questions. Sometimes it takes a dramatic event like a tsunami or an earthquake where thousands are killed in an instant, to make people ask themselves these questions. One minute all these people were just getting on with their daily lives, the next minute the tsunami struck and they were gone. A recent example was the rioting during the week in Egypt at a football game which left 74 people dead. If we can suddenly be snatched away like that, then what is the purpose of our being here? Is there any purpose, or is it all chance? The Lord teaches us that there most certainly is a purpose to our being here.
During his life on earth Jesus continually worked extraordinary miracles—just as we read in today’s Gospel—and as a result thousands of people were drawn to him looking for healing, just like we do today when we hear of someone who has been given a gift of healing. But the interesting thing is that this was not the main purpose of Jesus’ being here. Of course he was happy to heal people because he had extraordinary compassion for people, but primarily he wanted to teach people, to teach us about God and about the reason why we are here. When you think about it all the people he healed and even brought back to life from the dead, they all eventually got sick again at some stage and died. So he wanted to teach us that we are loved by God and we are not here by accident; that our life has a purpose and is going somewhere; that it is worth keeping going even when we are suffering, and of course above all he came to die for us.
When the disciples found him alone praying the first thing they told him was that everyone was looking for him. There was so much work to do, so many people to heal. But look how he responded: ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.’ That is why I came: to preach and teach. But why is it so important to teach us? Wouldn’t it be much better just to heal us? Physical healing is important of course and Jesus knew that. But he also knew that if we have meaning, if we have purpose, that is much more valuable to us, because meaning will help us to keep going and not to lose heart especially when we are suffering.
A few years ago when I worked as a hospital chaplain, I remember meeting a man who had been suffering for most of his life. He had had operation after operation and he was in pain most of the time. But when I met him he was smiling and he said, ‘Father I have so much to be grateful for.’ It was very humbling to hear this. Why was he so grateful; you would expect him to be angry? He was grateful because he had faith and he had purpose. He understood that his life had meaning and that it was going somewhere. He believed that this life was not everything and that it was worth persevering in spite of his sickness. He was also able to see the good things that he had, rather than just what was wrong.
Having that kind of purpose is what makes all the difference. And that is the purpose that our faith gives us. It doesn’t take away the pain, but it does help to make sense of why we are here. It reminds us that God does want us to be happy and that that is what He created us for. It also reminds us that it is worth putting up with the various struggles we have to go through because they are often what make us into better people. The suffering will not last forever. Sooner or later we will cross over to the next world where our happiness will be complete. That is what Jesus has taught us. Having that hope is what makes all the difference and that is why Jesus kept moving around and teaching people, so that they would have the strength to keep going especially when times were more difficult; so that they would have some sense of what their life was about and what was important.
So we will continue to pray and look for healing, and it is right that we do, but it is also good to remember that the hope we have in God is actually worth more than the physical healing, because that is what will keep us going. Remember the words of Jesus: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. Trust in God still and trust in me’ (John 14:1). God knows what He is doing so there is no need for us to be afraid, even when we often can’t make sense of what our life is about. ‘Trust in God still and trust in me.’