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Immersed in Christ: February 3, 2021

Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 12:4-15; Psalm 103; Mark 6:1-6.

“The Lord’s kindness is everlasting to those who fear him.”

Today’ reading begins by repeating yesterday’s last line: “In your fight against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” Hebrews is addressing our very common experience of feeling sorry for ourselves because of what we have to go through in life. And let’s be real: some of the things we or others suffer are horrible. We are not “whiners” if we “grow weary or lose heart” and are tempted to “abandon the struggle.” Hebrews acknowledged yesterday the difficulties we experience.

But today Hebrews urges us, first, to put our sufferings into perspective: “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” And second, to see the positive side of suffering. Hebrews says to look on it as training. The word translated as “discipline” is paideia, which has the same root as “pedagogy,” and refers to instruction or training, especially given to a child.

Hebrews talks as if God sends suffering: “Whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.” (The New Jerusalem Bible says, “The Lord trains those he loves”). But Hebrews here is doing what God often inspires the writers of Scripture to do: entering into the mind-set of the readers. The fact is, many do blame God when they suffer. Some see it as “punishment,” others just as proof that God does not love them or simply isn’t a loving God at all. Hebrews is saying, “If you think God is putting you through all this, can you see something positive in it?” Whether God “sends” suffering or just leaves people free to act in a way that imposes it on others (or themselves), God does use it. He draws good out of it. Hebrews urges us to see the potential for growth in what we endure. “Perseverance is part of your training.” 1

The author goes farther and says we should endure suffering as something permitted by a loving father. “God is treating you as his children — what child is there whom a parent does not train?” Of course, any pain associated with training “always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time.” But Hebrews assures us: “Later it brings forth the fruit of peace and uprightness in those who have undergone it.”

In other words, God never permits lemons without giving you what you need to make lemonade. And this is true even of sufferings that are no laughing matter. So “lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees. Make straight the paths you walk on.” Straighten up and fly right — “so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” If your nose is out of joint, change your attitude. Then what was crippling you will become your strength.

This is not just human “positive thinking.” Verse 10 (omitted) says. “Our human fathers were training us for a short life and according to their own lights. But God does it... so that we may share his own holiness.” Our goal is to “be Christ” and let Christ grow to “full stature” in us. This involves the mystery of the cross – which by grace (the “gift of sharing in God’s divine life”) we can both endure and embrace.

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one can see the Lord. See to it that... no root of bitterness should begin to grow and make trouble; this can poison many.”

Meditation: How do I deal with setbacks, opposition and hardship? How can I?

1 Verse 7 in the New Jerusalem Bible, which, with other approved translations, is being used often in these reflections.

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