Posted by: mmreflections | October 9, 2013

Revisiting the Gift of Sorrow October 2013




 When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her,  “Do not weep.”   (Luke 7:13)

This past Sunday the Gospel Reading in the Byzantine Catholic Church was about the raising of a widow’s son.  Jesus was visiting a city called Naim accompanied by some disciples and a large crowd.  As he was approaching the city gate, a man who had died was being carried out for burial.  He was the only son of a widowed mother.  When he saw her sorrow and grief, we are told that he was moved with pity, another way of saying he was moved to the depths of his heart for her.  As he said to her, “Do not go on weeping,” he went up and touched the coffin, probably an extended wicker basket used for burial in those days.  Those who were carrying the dead man stopped along with all the people.  “Young man, I tell you rise!”  The dead man rose and began to speak and Jesus gave him back to his mother. (Cfr. Luke 7:11-16)  This is the scripture passage always read at the doors of the church as the funeral liturgy comes to a close and the body of one of our deceased brothers or sisters is being carried out for burial.

For many of us this passage is considered among the most touching story about Jesus.  It speaks of an aspect of human life from which none of us can escape.  In the time of Jesus this funeral procession would have been lead by a group of professional mourners with their musical instruments accompanied by cries of grief.  The timeless grief and sorrow of the world can be felt in the few words which tell us that he was his mother’s only son and she was a widow.  This reminds us that no day goes by without someone, somewhere, grieving and suffering from a broken heart.  In life we are surrounded by tears and grief.  We cannot escape!

In this passage, however, we are especially touched by the compassion of Jesus which we also see in most of the other stories we read about him in the scriptures.  Jesus is moved with pity.  To be moved in such a way is to be touched in the deepest part of our being.  This is an important way of understanding our Lord.  In the culture of Jesus’ time, this compassion would have been most astounding since there were so many people who embraced the philosophy of the Stoics.  Stoicism was a belief that considered God to be incapable of any kind of feelings.  Our grief and sadness cannot make God feel the same thing, so they thought.  For many of the followers of Jesus, this was the most attractive and touching aspect of his life.

A passage in the Gospel of John is a most important one for us to consider at this point.  It was at the Last Supper when Jesus tells those present, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You have faith in God; have faith also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  I am going to prepare a place for you.  I will come back again and take you to myself so that where I am you also may be.”  When questioned by Thomas, Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, then you will also know my Father.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  At that moment Philip said to Jesus, “Show us the Father….”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  Cfr. John 14:1-9)

There are many ways we can read the Sacred Scriptures.  We miss a great deal if we just read it as a great literary work.  However, if we read the scriptures with a desire to learn more about what God is like we will discover a great treasure.  When we come to understand that all the stories told about Jesus and all the lessons he taught are reflections of what God, our Father, is like.  Jesus makes clear to us that whoever sees him sees the Father.  “Look at me,” Jesus tells Philip in response to his request that Jesus show them the Father.  Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father is like the Father of the Prodigal Son, like the King who throws banquets and invites everyone, like the one who feels the sorrow of a widowed mother, like the one who forgives over and over again, like the one who knows rejection and humiliation, like the one who rejects no one, like the one who dines with sinners and outcasts, the one who grieves with us in our pain and brokenness, the one who remains with us always, the one who waits patiently for us whenever we turn away from him, the one who knows us better that we know ourselves, the one who knows and binds up our wounds.

From the moment Jesus came into this world, born in a cave because there was no room for him on a cold winter night, he experienced some form of sorrow.  Rejection, humiliation and criticism followed him all through his life.  He chose love, mercy and forgiveness rather than security, fame and power as his way of proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  In the end he suffered crucifixion and death at the hands of the many religious leaders of his day who rejected his message and chose to live their lives in their own way.  Again and again, we need to ask ourselves if we will also reject his message and choose to live in our own way instead of the way Jesus has shown us.

When we read the Old Testament and we consider all the stories as a way of understanding God, we can see the role of suffering and grief in the lives of the people of God before the coming of Jesus.  God gives so many gifts to the people as a sign of his great love for them.   However, again and again the people of God turn away and reach out for the false gods of the time.  Whenever they do this they begin to experience many problems and often readers think that God is punishing them.  The truth is they are in great trouble because they have turned away from the true God.  It often happened when some difficulty came into their lives and life was not going their way.  But God is shown waiting for them to come to their senses and turn back to him.  He sends prophets to them reminding them of the suffering and pain they are experiencing because they are not heeding his commands.  He always welcomes them back.  The lessons of life these people could not accept were the setbacks and the sufferings that come into every life.

Jesus shows us the way we are to take on our journey through life.  He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Jesus accepted suffering and grief as a part of life and we must do the same if we are going to be true followers.  We must not only accept but embrace all the sorrows that we may experience on our journey. This is a gift that reminds us that we need a power greater than ourselves, that we have such a power in our God who is always with us and grieves with us in our sufferings and sorrows. We must not, however, forget that all our suffering and grief is but a prelude to something new, in the end a new life.  After his humiliating death on the cross, Jesus rose to new life and is now with us always.  As with Jesus, all the sorrows of our own lives will one day lead us to our new life with him.  

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.  Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Matthew 5:3-4;10-12)


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