How Our Suffering Can Help Others

by Faith & Life, Gospels, Meaning of Suffering

“Your words were found, and I ate them,

and your words became to me a joy.”

– Jeremiah 15:16

What in life seems incomprehensible, many times comes to reveal itself as utterly essential. There are transitions we make in life without realizing it, transitions marked by surprises and by suffering. Incomprehension can sometimes become so heavy and dark that we would do just about anything to make it stop. It seems impossible to continue on, to keep moving forward.

This is the story of Elijah, as told in the 19th chapter of the First book of Kings. Elijah is a man passionate for truth, tenacious, a tireless seeker of justice. But all of this is difficult for him. He finds himself isolated, alone and judged by others.

When it seems like everyone around you thinks differently, when you are convinced that the mistakes are being made, when you might have a chance show people which way to go, you do not always have the energy and the courage to expose yourself. We would rather not commit ourselves, we back off and start to think that it’s not worth the trouble.

But Elijah gives it a shot. He would like to convince the Israelites to make a decision, to be steadfast, to break their bonds of slavery to a god that does not respond. The prophets of Baal (which means “master”) drain themselves without achieving anything. Nowadays we are much like them, seeking answers where there are none to be found. We continue to drain ourselves out for nothing.

Elijah is being persecuted by the Queen Jezebel. The powerful use these false gods to exercise power over the simple. But the moment comes when even Elijah wants to throw in the towel. Fear and fatigue overcome him and he runs from his responsibilities. He goes into the desert, the unknown, the place of solitude. He wants to die under the broom tree. But life must go on. And when you look closely you see the sustenance needed to keep going is always there.

There is a desire to live that never ever goes out: it is the desire God has for every person. God wants us to live. And He wants to nourish especially those who, like Elijah, can no longer go on. The Jews murmur like the Israelites did in the desert. When we are hungry we are focused on our stomachs and seems impossible that God could be concerned for us.

God chooses to nourish us in a paradoxical way, but it’s the only way possible: He chooses to become vulnerable Himself, like man. The bread that has come down from heaven is His flesh. In biblical anthropology, the flesh is the most fragile aspect of the human being. It is the part that suffers the indigence of death. The Word has in fact been made flesh because, only by sharing in the vulnerability of another, is it possible to become bread for him.

The Jews murmur because they are scandalized by the revelation of a vulnerable God but He is the only God that can save. If God were not vulnerable, he would be Baal, he would be a slave master, a divinity that owns slaves but does not listen.

Jesus is the son of Joseph, a vulnerable man. Precisely for this reason, paradoxically, Jesus can both understand us and nourish us.

This is also the way in which we can discover the meaning of our own lives to nourish the lives of others.

Our life is bread and finds its meaning only when it is eaten and used to nourish the hunger of others.

In Jesus, God asks us to walk the path of life so that we can become bread for others.

And now what is incomprehensible has become essential because your vulnerability and your wounds are no longer useless, but become the motive by which you recognize the weariness of others, and that maybe you can be the bread that helps them along their way.

There is always a broom tree under which someone is waiting to die. Do not hesitate to offer them the bread that can help them start up again.

Questions for personal reflection:

  • Where can you find the bread you need to move forward it this time in your life?
  • How can you be bread for others today?

The Gospel According to John (6:41-51)

The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven, ” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?  Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.  Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

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