These readings for today are not easy. As I read them, I thought that they pointed to the stark reality of life here on earth. A reality that say we all suffer, we all fall on difficult times, and for some, those sufferings seem to go on forever.

Have you ever been told to take the higher ground in a situation of trouble? Maybe a time when you felt personally attacked by another, and all you wanted to do was to seek revenge? I feel like these readings are telling us to “take the higher ground” that place where we let go of our desires for revenge or even for power. None of today’s lessons hide the fact that life is hard, and that all of us will come to hard times at some point or other. Suffering I think, is a strong unifier, because we all know those feelings of being alone in the dark places that life takes us. No one escapes it, and none of us get out of this whole experience alive. I am not a believer in “God never gives you more than you can handle” because I look around and I see extreme poverty, places torn by war, the mentally ill who suffer in ways you and I can only imagine. None of that is something any of us can “handle”. It’s awful, death dealing stuff, that quite frankly others are inflicting on the “least of these” so that they can have more while the afflicted have less and less. Evil and sin are real.

So what are we to do in the face of such evil and chaos? My mentor and friend, the good Padre, used to say the only answer to all of our questions about evil and suffering is Jesus.

Well meaning friends will often say that we need to have more faith, and then things will be ok. I have to say, that is not my experience, at least not all of the time. What I think our gospel is saying today about the faith the size of a mustard seed, is that it’s really not about how much faith we have. How would we even measure that? Sometimes our faith is known only to God. I think it’s more about what kind of faith we have, the quality of it. So, maybe what we pray for in those times is the faith, and the strength of that faith to help us get to the other side. Jesus doesn’t save us from the dark times in our lives; human life, while a gift, is also filled with times that are hard. I do think, however, that Jesus is with us in those times, helping us perhaps to carry some of that burden. Even in those times when we feel like we can’t pray, all that we say, all the crying out for justice, IS prayer, and is heard by God, and certainly felt by Jesus, who has gone even to the depths of the grave so that we would never be alone.

When I was newly sober, I went to an Alcoholics Anonymous event where there were speakers, many of whom had many, many years of sobriety. I went to listen to this one speaker whose name I have since forgotten, but whose story has stayed with me.

He was a priest, who had done fairly well in the church at first; as the years went by, he did less well, and was given assignments that no one really wanted. He said that his life slowly dissolved into just a bleakness that he didn’t know how to get out of. God was distant, people were distant, he was actually in danger of being pulled from his call, and possibly even defrocked. The outer behavior of his that betrayed his inner life of pain and turmoil, was his increasing alcoholism. The worse he felt, the more he drank, the more chaos he gathered around himself. He then said that one day he just felt desperate. He felt abandoned even by the God whom he had pledged to serve. He had nothing left to lose. And so, he did what anyone in his situation would do; he let God have it. He said he began to shake his fist and just yell about the pain and suffering he was going through. He said as he shook his fist to the heavens, “Where WERE you when my parents were beating and abusing me? Where WERE you when I was afraid in the darkness that someone would come into my room and do awful things to me?” Then, as he sat there, having yelled and cried as much as he had it in him to do, he heard the small, quiet voice of God say, “I was right there with you.”

He said it changed his life forever. And, I have to say, witnessing his telling the story, it changed my life too. Discipleship is hard work on the best of days. But man oh man, when we are in a bad place, it seems impossible. I know that in those times, what I want is for Jesus to come and make it all better. But we know that’s not how it works. Jesus has come to bring the kingdom of God and to save this often reckless world we live in; he came to earth so that you and I could be joined to God forever. But when I read about him, there is nothing that says the pain of this life will go away. You and I still sin, and we are also victims of other people’s sin and deceptions. There’s not much we can do sometimes to bring about justice, but as disciples, we have to try. Our work is to always witness to God and the incredible love that God has shown by sending his Son to redeem an incredibly broken world. Sometimes, we have to do that by actions we take in addition to the words we say. Sometimes, we have to take the “higher ground” because that’s the right and Jesus filled thing to do. Sometimes we have to risk our own well being because that’s what disciples do in order to spread the news of the kingdom of God. So we reach out to others in our own times of prosperity AND our times of suffering because that is exactly what Jesus did, and it is what disciples do. And sometimes it might even feel as though evil has won. Beloved, we know better. God is Love, and God showed that love by becoming one of us, and one thing I know about capital L Love, is that Love wins. Always. Even when it’s hard to see or imagine. It’s a Love that dares to hope when others say hope is lost. And we can say that because we know death doesn’t have a grip on us… for us it is not the end, because in God there is no end.

We do not say “Increase our faith”, but perhaps, “help us to deepen our faith”; help us to have the kind of faith we need to get through the darkness, to get through the chaos around us. Help us to SEE that Jesus is also there in those places helping us to make it through. May the Holy Spirit that lives in us help us to see Jesus who has conquered darkness and death forever.