Have you ever considered the fact that Jesus not only cared for others in their suffering, as when he grieved with Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11), but that he was comforted in his own suffering? I’m thinking of the woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. Jesus says that this act of love was done in view of his imminent suffering (John 12: 2-8). Then again, Jesus specifically invited his friends to be with him as he fervently prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. Why? Because he desired their prayers and presence. After his crucifixion, we are told that Mary and John and other women came to the cross to be with Jesus as he suffered (John 19:25). This was their privilege to be with him, and his comfort. Paul says that God “consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1: 4). The gospels are filled with invitations to serve and show compassion toward those who are hurting; yet there is a philosophy that says we should not bother others with the burden of caring for us in our own suffering.
This week I came across Karen Prior’s review of George Saunders’ Tenth of December, a short story about a character who has chosen to end his life due to a terminal illness. Don Eber does not want to subject his family to his suffering and imagines his choice to end it on the tenth of December, to be the heroic one. His suicide, however, is interrupted by the chance to be truly heroic by saving the life of a young boy. After doing so, Eber returns home, reflecting on his life and the meaning of letting himself be cared for in his dying:
Why should those he loved not lift and bend and feed and wipe him, when he would gladly do the same for them? He’d been afraid to be lessened by the lifting and bending and feeding and wiping, and was still afraid of that, and yet, at the same time, now saw that there could still be many - many drops of goodness, is how it came him - many drops of happy - of good fellowship - ahead, and those drops of fellowship were not - had never been - his to [withhold].
Prior concludes that these drops of goodness are not ours to withhold. There are times when we may want to escape a world in which suffering is possible, including our own. This is understandable. Wanting to withdraw from people is understandable. Fear of suffering is understandable. Even the thought of taking one’s own life is understandable. Yet let us remember what Jesus has taught us – that our hurts are also the occasion of great love and compassion, and of “many drops of goodness.” That we were called into a forever family marked by love. That as we experience the loss of dear ones, or are experiencing suffering ourselves, our Risen Lord is pleased when we care for others in their suffering, and when we allow ourselves to be cared for in our own. For when we feed those who hunger and allow ourselves to be fed; when we give a drink to one who is thirsty and accept such a drink when it is offered to us; when we welcome those who haven’t a friend and allow ourselves to be loved; when we visit and care for those who are sick and allow others to care for us in our illness -- we do what Jesus did. We cast out fear with love (1 John 4:18). We demonstrate that we belong to Him (John 13: 35). And we give occasion for those healing drops of goodness and compassion in others (Matthew 25). In this season in which we celebrate our Lord’s astonishing, suffering love, let us neither withhold our own love and compassion, nor withhold from others, the opportunity to love and care for us in return.
Grace and peace to you,