The question of human suffering, especially that of the just, was a big problem in biblical times. This was the problem Job was wrestling with. Job was a good man yet he suffered terrible tragedies. This resulted in his gloomy view of life.
Suffering is still a big problem. There are lots of people today who could identify with Job. Think of all who suffer from poverty, hunger, sickness, injustice, oppression, tragedy … In Old Testament times suffering was seen as a punishment from God for sin.
What was Jesus’ answer to the problem of suffering? He did not accept the view that suffering was a punishment from God. God does not do evil. God does good. What we see in the Gospel is not so much an answer to the question ‘why suffering?’, as Jesus’ response to actual suffering.
That response was a very practical one – as we see from today’s Gospel. Here we see Jesus surrounded by throngs of physically and mentally sick people. And he gives himself to each of them, healing them one by one. He didn’t insulate himself against human pain. He made himself totally vulnerable before the wounded and the sick.
Suffering is a lonely condition. Jesus wasn’t sentimental about suffering. Nor did he preach resignation as we often do. He did not like to see people suffer. Suffering was one of the evils he came to fight. He had compassion on sufferers and made them well. He cast out the devils of guilt, fear, shame, despair … that held people bound.
The problem of suffering became an opportunity for Jesus – an opportunity to show what God is like. By the way he gave himself to the sick, he reveals to us the compassion of God in the face of human suffering.
The suffering of others is an opportunity for us too. We may not be able to cure, but it is always within our power to care. And to care is a very healing thing. Just to be with the sufferer, is in itself a very worthwhile thing. But it’s no easy thing, because it means that instead of relieving someone’s pain, we have to be prepared to share it.
We come to sufferers with empty hands. What can we do for them? We can use those empty hands for comforting. All they ask is that we do not desert them. ‘That we stand our ground at the foot of the cross as Mary did on Calvary. Simply to be there – that in some ways is the hardest thing of all. The one thing the sufferer longs for is in our power to give human warmth. A person can be healed without being cured.
As for our own suffering. Suffering is an unavoidable element of the human condition. Nevertheless, the road of suffering is a narrow and dark one. It’s a great comfort to us to know that Jesus went down this road, and went down it to the end. It is not the same since he travelled it. A bright light illuminates it. He shows us that though it leads to Calvary, it doesn’t end there. It ends at Easter. Thus for Christians suffering becomes an opportunity to share in Christ’s Passion in the hope of sharing in his Easter victory.