Wise words from a person going through a hard time: “I don’t mind suffering when no one else knows about it — as long as someone knows about it!” He was touching on a truth that most all of us know. When up against it, it makes a difference to realize others are aware of what we’re going through, and even more of a difference if they have inside knowledge of it from their own struggles. Best of all is when they do something to lift the burden. This is a saving solidarity, not only sympathizing but carrying us through.
This flavor of salvation shows up all through the Scriptures. Moses, a slave of the Egyptians, is walking in the woods and comes on this burning bush which won’t burn up. Sensing overwhelming holiness, he falls down in terror and hears a voice: “I know well what you’re suffering, and I’ve come to lead you to freedom.” It’s the Almighty proclaiming, “I know. I feel the heaviness and entrapment you’re feeling. On you I have compassion; the passion you’re suffering is now my passion.”
This story founds the Jewish people. “I am with you and for you and will act to save you. I’m taking up your cause, walking along with you and will lead you out.” It reaches its peak when in Jesus, God goes the ultimate step of taking on our human condition, picking it up from the inside even to death. This is solidarity come full circle – knowing, walking with, helping.
In his fig tree parable, Jesus adds texture to this message. The hapless plant has gone through three negative years, producing not one single fig and now on the owner’s chopping block. It is all by itself — but not quite. The gardener steps in, he who knows all about how trees grow, how soil and roots and fertilizer produce results. He stands with the wilting bush and at this do-or-die juncture gives it a second chance. The crowd realizes the gardener is Jesus himself, come to open doors to new and fuller life.
For all of us as God’s people, the pattern is clear. It’s that standing-with, that connecting with the suffering other and appreciating her burdens from within. It’s that call to personal solidarity, the divine summons to step inside the other’s shoes and walk his path, all with a view toward helping. If there ever were saints who lived this story, Vincent and Louise and Frederick are high among them.
There’s a line in an old hymn that sings “Our God is an Inside God.” The Lord we worship is not a far-off deity but lives inside us. In Jesus, God rides the roads of our experience and “knows well what we are suffering.” And this same “inside God” summons us to go and do likewise for the hurting ones all around us. Have compassion for their hardships, feel something of what they feel, walk some in their shoes — and do what can be done to bring them to freedom.
“I don’t mind suffering when no one knows about it — as long as someone knows about it. And works to lessen its burden.”