As Christians, we know at least three things about pain and suffering. First, we know Jesus did not remove pain and suffering from the world. Although he healed many individuals during his public ministry, he actually did not make much of a dent in the massive human suffering that swirled around him.
Secondly, as Christians we don’t have the answer to human pain and suffering–especially that of the innocent. Why did this little boy get cancer? We don’t know why. Why was that young mother of three killed in that car crash? We don’t know why. Why can’t this 95-year-old church-going woman die? She’s been begging God for months to come and take her, yet she lingers on and on. We don’t know why?
But the third thing we Christians know about pain and suffering is this (and it’s the BIG one): Jesus suffered. He suffered horrendously on the cross. I’ll say a few words about that later. But throughout his life he also suffered in ways similar to our own. For example, he suffered misunderstandings. Already at age 12, he dallied in Jerusalem, causing misunderstanding and anguish (unintentionally) to his good parents. Later he suffered misunderstandings with his extended family as well. Remember when he began his public ministry, his relatives thought he was crazy? They tried to kidnap him and drag him back home again. Jesus suffered misunderstandings with his closest friends too. Despite his teachings and the example of his living, Jesus couldn’t get through to his disciples. They kept jockeying for the highest positions in his “organization.” It got so bad that, at the Last Supper, Jesus had to illustrate in an unmistakable way the type of leadership he was calling for in his disciples: the love and service of others—demonstrated so tenderly by the washing of the feet.
Besides experiencing misunderstandings, Jesus also suffered loneliness, exhaustion, discouragement, grief, uncertainty, disappointment, betrayal, fear. In the garden of Gethsemane, his terror was so intense, he sweat blood. Then there’s the crucifixion itself. To put it bluntly, the Romans “designed” crucifixion to maximize pain while prolonging life. They used it regularly to deter any type of uprising. Crucifixions were public events. Sometimes the crucified hung on their crosses for days–usually along the busy roads so passers-by would be forced to see them. Jesus’ death must have been ghastly. Even the prologue to the crucifixion was ghastly–the scouraging, the mocking, the crowning of thorns. Who knows what other terrible things the drunken soldiers did to him that night.
In one way, our crucifixes are too nice. For one thing, Jesus wears a loin cloth–which he probably didn’t have on. I’m not saying our crucifixes should depict the crucifixion in all its gore. But I am saying this: as we pray before our crucifixes and venerate them, we must remember that Jesus’ agony was far worse than we depict it. A few years back, a French artist did fashion a crucifix that was both realistic and gruesome. A woman who was viewing the crucifix, said to the artist, “Sir, I do not like your crucifix. It is too unpleasant.” The artist replied, “Madam, it was a very unpleasant occasion.”
We do not have an answer to pain and suffering. But we have something better. We have a person. We have Jesus who embraced his own pain and suffering out of love for us. He surrendered to a horrific death with absolute trust in Abba, in God. Jesus teaches us that our pain and suffering too can somehow be redemptive.
This Holy Week let us remember Jesus’ pain and suffering. But let us remember his great love even more. Let us thank Jesus for being our “answer” to pain. And when we are experiencing our own particular agonies, may we always remember this: Jesus understands. He’s been there. And he’s with us now.
As the dramatist Paul Claudel has said so beautifully, “Christ came not to eradicate our suffering, but to fill it with his presence.”
I would like to conclude this reflection with this three-minute video entitled “Jesus Wasn’t Just a Man.” (I thank Sister Sandy for forwarding this to me.) There are no spoken words, only written ones. It goes fast, just so you know. Watch it in full screen if possible. When you’re finished, click “escape,” then the reverse arrow at the top left to come back to this blog.
What are you feeling, thinking about, or praying about this Holy Week?
PS: My reflection for Easter will be published on April 19, Holy Saturday.
ALSO: There seemed to be a “glitch” in my blog this past week. Some of you were notified of a new post, but when you tried to access it, the page could not be found. You didn’t miss anything. The posts are scheduled for the next few weeks (I’m working ahead), but somehow you received notification early. I’m sorry! My “tech experts” think they have solved the problem.