07 February 2015

RESPONDING TO SUFFERING

V SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; mark 1:29-39

leonard sweet writes: «i visited an eight-year-old girl dying of cancer. her body was disfigured by the disease and its treatment. she was in constant pain. i was immediately overcome by her suffering: unjust, unfair, unreasonable» (cf. «postmodern pilgrims»).

we can identify with sweet’s experience. suffering—our own or of others—overwhelms us, and we often ask «why?» 
the book of job (today’s reading is his soliloquy on human suffering) raises this question. job is beset by immense suffering: he has lost his family and his possessions; he has terrible sores. what has job done to deserve this fate? his friends think he has sinned. but he is righteous and innocent.
job never receives an answer to the «why» of his suffering. perhaps, there is no answer to this question (were there an answer, we would not be still asking the question)! 

but there is a response to suffering… the response of JESUS. 
when JESUS is confronted with human suffering, he does not answer the question; he responds to the suffering person: he grasped simon’s mother-in-law’s hand and helped her up; he «cured many who were sick»…
in fact, the incarnation is GOD’s response to suffering: his comforting and caring presence in the midst of our suffering world.

we are called to continue JESUS’ response; to be part of the response!
often, the «why» is not an intellectual question; it is a cry for understanding. so, when confronted by suffering, we need to reach out: by grasping the suffering person by the hand; by allowing him/her to feel what his/she is feeling and express those feelings (like job did!); by not giving false explanations or false hopes, or denying the reality/extent of the suffering; by helping them find moments of solitude (like JESUS did)… and above all, by an empathetic and silent presence.

sweet continues his narrative: «even more overpowering was the presence of her grandmother lying in bed beside her embracing this precious, inhuman suffering… she never spoke while i was there. she was holding and participating in suffering that she could not relieve, and somehow her silent presence was relieving it.»

i do not have an answer to why people suffer. i can seldom do anything to relieve their suffering. will i give them my presence and help them up? will i give them space to feel their feelings and to express them?