When Jesus had set the bent-over woman free from her ailment and rebuked the leader of the synagogue for his protest of a Sabbath healing, “the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.” For the most part, Jesus did well with crowds. Of course, there were some rough spots. At the very beginning, while he was discussing his inaugural sermon, the crowd became so angry that they wanted to throw him over a cliff. The Gospel of Mark adds that Jesus was not able to do any deeds of power in his hometown because he was amazed at their lack of faith, though he did lay hands on a few sick people and cure them. Then, at the end, there was the crowd that kept yelling for the release of Barabbas and calling for Jesus’ crucifixion. In between, Jesus taught, fed and healed crowd after crowd.
Crowds seem to be gathering everywhere these days. From Egypt to Wisconsin, and from North Africa to the Middle East, people have gathered to give expression to their common needs and hopes. Yet, they are not just crowds. They are also individuals with their own unique experiences of life, their own trials, and their own wounds.
In her book, Living with Contradiction Esther de Waal tells the story of a grief-stricken mother who had lost her son. It is a story that reminds us that each face in whatever crowd we find ourselves has known its own suffering.
In a certain village a young boy fell ill and died. His mother was inconsolable. Many of her friends tried to comfort her, but she said nothing would ease her grief unless her son was brought back to life. She went to the doctor, but he shook his head and said it was impossible. The wise woman with her herbs and spells said it was beyond her power, and so did everyone else the mother approached. Eventually she came to the hut of an old monk living as a hermit deep in the forest and asked him if he could restore her son to life. “Certainly,” said the monk. “What do I have to do?” the woman cried, delighted that at last someone was able to help her. “Go back to your village,” the monk said, “and bring me a cup of milk from a house which has never known suffering, and I will restore your son to life.” The woman set off thinking of all her happy neighbors. But as she went from hut to hut even the liveliest of families had to tell her that pain, suffering and death had at some time visited them, and though they were joyful now, it had not always been so. The woman went back to the monk with an empty cup. “Could you not find one house without suffering to give you a cup of milk?” he asked. “No,” she answered. “Now I see that there is no life without suffering, and no suffering that cannot be overcome.”
We live in a world full of people bent over by many things. For some it is poverty. Others deal daily with their own sickness or caring for a sick loved one. Unjust governments and corrupt leaders make life almost more than some people can bear. Some are weighed down by relationships that are not what they need for them to be. Still others struggle to find their place in the world, and its meaning and purpose for them. Many are plagued by addictions.
Jesus never promises us that we will not be bent over and weighed down by the challenges and difficulties that we face in this life. Suffering does indeed come to every life; and with Christ beside us and in us, we are able to overcome. His promise to be with us in the midst of it and walk with us as we go through it surrounds us with hope and courage when we might otherwise resign ourselves to staying bent over. A time of trial in our lives, or the suffering caused by a particular situation in which we find ourselves, should never be seen as an indication that God is especially displeased with us. What it means is that we have something in common with the rest of the crowd of people that populate our planet, none of whom live in houses that have never known suffering. The one who suffers for us also suffers with us; and when we are bent over from the weight of our suffering, he helps us to stand.