Friday, April 10, 2020
Readings: Isaiah 52:13—53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
Perhaps it is a sign of our fallen state
that we seem to treat suffering as a zero-sum game:
we act as if the validation of one kind of suffering
somehow requires the negation of other sorts of suffering.
This has particularly struck me during these days of Corona Time.
A single person, suffering from isolation,
is told by those struggling to homeschool their children
that they don’t know how easy they have it.
Those who speak of the tedium of staying at home
are rebuked by others in the name of those essential workers
who must put their health at risk by leaving home
to provide for our food or medical care.
The pain of priests who cannot minister
the sacraments to their people
is pitted against the pain
of those deprived of the sacraments.
It is almost as if there is not enough suffering to go around;
as if the recognition of one person’s suffering
could somehow deprive another person of their right to suffer.
It sounds foolish, of course, if you put it that way.
But nonetheless we do persist in feeling
that our particular form of suffering
might be invalidated if we recognize
someone suffering from different circumstances.
We treat suffering as if it were a measurable commodity
and not a mystery.
In some ways this is a failure of imagination on our part.
If I am suffering from prolonged confinement with my family,
I can’t imagine how someone could suffer from living alone;
I suspect they must simply be complaining.
If I am putting my health at risk to provide essential services,
I cannot imagine how not leaving the house for days on end
could count as real deprivation.
If I am hungering to receive Christ in the sacraments
I can’t imagine that my priest is livestreaming his private Masses
for any reason other than to taunt me.
And this failure of imagination is understandable,
because while suffering sometimes has material causes
and unmistakable outward manifestations,
at its heart it is something hidden and inward;
it is a spiritual affliction,
whatever its outward cause or sign.
It may be true, as a philosopher once said,
that the human body is the best picture of the human soul,
but the depths of the soul’s suffering
are not unfailingly depicted on the surface;
it seems still to be the case that we often fail
to grasp fully, or grasp at all, the suffering of others;
we fail in our knowing of how it is
in their particular situation.
Today, the letter to the Hebrews reminds us
that in Jesus, “we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.”
In Jesus, God knows how it is
to be in our particular situation.
We believe that, on the cross,
Jesus took on the whole of the world’s suffering,
not in order to satisfy in God a divine lust for vengeance,
but so that our suffering might be know from within
by the God who loves us and desires our good.
The cross is the event of divine compassion:
God suffers in the flesh in order to inhabit our suffering,
so that we may “confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”
Jesus knows your suffering, and knows it is real.
Jesus, the one without sin,
does not see your suffering as in competition with his;
indeed, your suffering is his suffering.
And he calls us who have been known by him
to see the suffering of others as he sees it:
to press beyond the limitations of our imaginations
and inhabit their suffering
as Jesus has inhabited ours.
He calls us to listen for their suffering
and to hear it without needing to judge it
or to rank it against other suffering.
He calls us to know as he knows
that the forms of suffering
are as varied as those who suffer,
but the remedy for our suffering
is the one love of God.
He calls us on this Friday we call good
to a deeper compassion
rooted in the compassion of the cross.
During the days and weeks ahead,
let us pray to grow in compassion.
And may God have mercy on us all.