If anyone wants to become my follower, let him deny
himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
He was at a gathering of family and friends, on the way to the BBQ. A slight slip, a trip and suddenly things changed. He was in hospital with his badly broken ankle in a cast to his knee. In another section of the hospital was a person in palliative care, her body exhausted from a long fight with cancer, she was barely able to sit up for brief periods.
In Orlando this past week, an irrational act of hatred and violence brought death and pain to many. Around the world, in the Middle East, in the Philippines, in Africa, political, social and religious differences have generated violence, conflict and war. The divisions have brought death and destruction to many and resulted in the dislocation of millions from their homes and livelihoods.
Pain and suffering, physical, psychological, emotional and social are part of our being human, being alive. At our core, we humans are vulnerable. We can be broken in so many ways. Despite all our efforts, we cannot govern, control or direct all that happens in our lives. Often “Stuff just happen” and it takes our lives off our carefully crafted plans. At other times our peace and harmony are disrupted by the ambition and greed of others.
Whatever its cause, brokenness is part of our personal human experience as well as the experience of our world. How do we make some sense of this universal encounter with pain and suffering? How do we as disciples of Jesus respond to such a cross?
Jesus’ experience was one of frequent encounters with pain and suffering. Time and again, the gospels describe him meeting the sick, the lame, the blind, the suffering in body and in soul. At the same time, he encounters and lives in the midst of hatred, oppression, injustice and rejection. His was to a mission to this suffering humanity. Even Jesus himself would face pain and suffering, rejection and exclusion. In sharing our humanity, Jesus also shared our brokenness and suffering. He has shared our crosses.
To acknowledge that we face pain and suffering in our lives is to acknowledge that our world is not perfect. We are not always going to be in control of how things take place, whether that be a broken limb, a personal illness, or a world calamity. It recognizes that every human being is in some way vulnerable - even Jesus in his own humanity.
It is in this human reality of suffering where we are most vulnerable that we live on the edge of the divine. It is where we often encounter the presence of God. This is the experience of Jesus in the Gospels. Responding to the suffering and pain was where he expressed God’s great love for all creation. In the compassion and reconciling action of Jesus we see God touching our human fragility.
As much as Jesus shared our brokenness, he also shared our human capacity for love and mercy. His mission was to reveal that we are created, all of us, in the image of a loving God. Like Jesus, we can bring to these crosses the mercy and healing, the reconciliation and inclusion that in God’s plan is so life-giving.
To express this compassion in the face of suffering, even in small ways, is to be the touch of God’s love. As disciples of Jesus, it is to bring God to our human reality – to bear the cross of compassion and care. In this Year of Mercy this is the greatest of messages that we can share with our shared humanity.