Deep Down Joy
Eleazar’s speech on the way to his death rivals accounts of Christian martyrs for its beauty and depth of faith. Even in the face of torture and certain death, he professes his desire to remain faithful to God’s commands. In the course of his bold profession of faith, he reveals the mystery at work in the heart of every martyr: “I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body . . . but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.”
Pain in the body, but joy in the soul. It is the mystery of the human heart that both can be felt at the same time. Two different, even contrasting felt experiences at one and the same time. Without a doubt, however, it is the joy that is deeper, it is the joy that “governs” and takes the lead. Without that joy, there would be no martyrdom, no witness to something or, rather, to Someone who makes heroic suffering possible.
Though we may marvel at such witness, we tend to distance ourselves from the experience. “Those people” who die for their faith seem so far removed from our poor faith. Yet, in simple ways, we can see this “down deep joy” at work. Many of us know people suffering with serious illness who through relationship with the Lord maintain a genuine joy; here is a “pain in the body, but joy in the soul.” Others may lack a physical pain, but in the circumstances of their lives they know mental anguish and stress; again, we have seen the joy of faith that breaks through the pain.
Are we experiencing physical, emotional, perhaps even spiritual pain? The scriptures today invite us to “go deep,” in search of the One who loves us in the pain and promises to each of us, even with that pain, a “deep down joy.”
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