by Linda Ryan
When Jesus tells us about his Father, we distrust him. When he shows us his Home, we turn away. But when he confides in us that he is ‘acquainted with grief,’ we listen, for that also is an Acquaintance of our own. — Emily Dickinson*
It seems like the world is getting smaller and more deadly all the time. It’s like a bad dream that we keep hoping that we will wake up from. It is all so confusing, and also so intense. We don’t seem to have time between events process and to begin to understand one event when in hours or days we have to process something else just as awful.
The list of cities goes on and on:. Paris, Baghdad, Orlando, Dallas, Nice, Baton Rouge; all of these are just the most recent mass killings, and that is not counting the individual murders of young men, predominantly African Americans, who come to our attention almost every day. It’s almost too much to bear, and yet it raises the fear, anger, and attempted justification as to why this happens.
Emily Dickinson gave us something to think about in times like these. She reminded us that Jesus often talked about his Father, and his words were of love and trust and security. His encouragement was for us to love this God, and to do those things that God had told us we should do but avoiding harmful, destructive ones. Somehow it seems like we did not believe him.
Jesus spoke about his home; not the one in Nazareth, which he shared with his mother and father and probably siblings, but the one where his Father was. He spoke of that house, one with many mansions, and one where peace, love, and safety reigned. We did not seem to believe that either.
One thing we can be assured of though, is that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah as, “…A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3b). He lived in a tricky time, one when the political atmosphere appeared fairly calm on the surface, but boiling just underneath was a resentment of the Romans who had occupied and now governed the land. There were factions within and without Judaism, each believing that they had the truth (sound familiar?). There were those who had money, position, and power, and there were many more who had none of those. Theft, robbery, bribery, just about every known sin, as we care call it, was found there. This was Jesus’ world, not some antiseptic happy place. Jesus saw things for what they were. He saw all the bad things that happen to good people, and sometimes he intervened in those situations and thus we have the miracles. But he must have seen far far more than he ever spoke about or helped.
We understand this Jesus. His frustration at not being able to help everyone might have been a part of his mission on earth. In order to be fully human, he had to understand all of humanity, not just the pleasant parts, and not just fixing everything that he could see was wrong. People could not do that themselves, and he had to learn to see how humanity existed without benefit of power and privilege power. It is that grief, the one that sees and is helpless to do anything, that makes Jesus someone we can understand, at least in part. He, like us, lives through turbulent times and probably listens to the crowds as they go about their daily business and muttering about how bad things are.
Granted, Jesus didn’t have to worry about crowds being mowed down by big trucks, or people being shot by snipers, or even people being blown up with bombs or attacked with assault rifles. I imagine he stands in the crowds were these things happen. Our grief is his grief, and even though he is divine, I’m sure he has not forgotten what it feels like to be human.
He stands with the mothers who cry and wail for dead children. He stands with young people who stare down at the body of a friend they were just talking or riding with, who now lies on the ground, dead. He stands with the men of valor who wear badges and swear to protect the innocent and themselves are salted shot and killed by someone with a grudge. He stands with all this as we witness horror after horror, and he weeps with us because he too is acquainted with grief.
Jesus is there for and with us but that does not relieve us of the necessity of trying to do something about it ourselves. We so desperately want something to believe in, something that offers a solid ground in a very shaky world. If we did not listen to Jesus talk about his Father, did not trust when he talked about his home, maybe we should hold on to Jesus as grieving just as we are.
We all grieve, Jesus grieves with us. We must acknowledge this, and then begin to hand out Kleenexes and start to do things that will help the world overcome the evils we find in it. Jesus is counting on us.
*Quoted in Norris, Kathleen, The Cloister Walk, (1997) New York: Riverhead Books; p. 27