It is interesting that 2500 years ago when the first reading from Job (7:1-4, 6-7) was written, people 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 sometimes so difficult? Why do good people suffer so much, often for no apparent reason?’ Throughout the centuries people continue to 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. I often think of the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004, because it was devastating. Within a few minutes, 250,000 people were killed. One minute all those people were just getting on with their daily lives, the next minute the tsunami struck and they were gone. 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? I think the Covid-19 virus has made many people ask similar questions. 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 this was not the main purpose of Jesus’ being here. Jesus continually healed people, because he had so much compassion for people and it seems there was never anyone brought to him whom he didn’t heal, but that wasn’t his primary work. His primary task—apart from sacrificing himself for us—was 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 and died. Physical healing is important and we will always do whatever we can to find healing, but it is not the most important thing. What is more important is that we have spiritual understanding and strength. We need to know why we are here and what our purpose is and that is why Jesus kept moving on to the next village to teach and preach.
He wanted to teach us that we are loved by God and we are not here by accident; that we were deliberately created out of love, to spend all eternity in his presence; he taught that our life has a purpose and is going somewhere, that we have a specific role to play; that it is worth keeping going, even when we are suffering. He also taught us how God calls us to live: to live from the heart, to love and serve from the heart, not at a minimal level of only doing what is required, but giving of ourselves completely. The ultimate mission of his life was to die for us, so that we could get to heaven when we die, so that God’s plan for our happiness could come about.
When the disciples found Jesus 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.
What is also interesting is the way that he taught. He mostly used parables. The reason why that is different is that a parable does not give you an obvious answer; it points you in a particular direction, but you must go on searching for the truth if you are to discover the meaning. Why is that important? Because it engages us in the work of searching for and discovering the truth. It makes us think and also use our imagination. In other words, he didn’t just shove a set of teachings down our throat and say, ‘This is it.’ It is a recognition of how God respects our intelligence and freedom. God invites us to look for the truth that He wants to show us, but it is up to us whether we do or not. He is saying, ‘I will teach you more and more if you want to learn.’
When I began my ministry as a priest I worked as a hospital chaplain, I remember meeting a man who had been suffering for most of his life. He had had surgery after surgery and he was in pain most of the time. But every time 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 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. Having that purpose is what makes all the difference. And that is what our faith gives us. It doesn’t take away the pain, but it helps to make sense for us of why we are here. It reminds us that God does want us to be happy, 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. Having that hope is what makes all the difference and that is why Jesus kept moving around and teaching people, so that they would understand the purpose of their lives.
Very often people ask me how they can know what they are called to, or what God wants them to do. We are mainly just called to live in the circumstances that we find ourselves. For most of us it is pretty ordinary, and may seem unimportant, but it’s not. How we live our life is everything. If I live my life remembering that I am only here for a short while and that my destiny is in heaven, I will live it very differently than if I believe this world is what it’s all about and that is the difference faith makes. If I have the hope that faith in God gives me, then I will not be afraid even when things are difficult. Even if my life is not as exciting, or ‘successful’ as I had hoped, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I try and live it as best I can, loving and serving the people around me. When my time here is complete, I will go to be with God where I will be completely fulfilled in every possible way.
This is what Jesus wanted people to understand. That is why he told the Apostles to go and teach all nations, so that people would know that we have a purpose, and all that He has done for us, and what awaits us. That is why it is so important that we continue to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. All people need to know this. They don’t have to accept or believe it, but they have a right to know it.
Meanwhile 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, because that is what makes sense of why we are here.
‘Let us go on to the nearby villages, so that I may preach there also. For that is why I have come.’