At a 25th wedding anniversary reception, the husband, who had perhaps had a little too much to drink, began thanking the crowd for coming. He started going on and on about how this was the best marriage in the world, and how much they love one another. When he eventually sat down, his wife said, “Tell me what hurts me.” Bleary-eyed, the husband said, “How do I know what hurts you?” The wife’s answer was swift: “If you don’t know what hurts me, how can you say you love me?”
Do you know what made Jesus so loving a person? The greatest lover in history? Jesus Christ not only loved, He knew how people hurt. He knew then, and He knows now.
It shows up all through His public life: with the woman caught in adultery, in danger of stoning. The sinful woman who touches Him. The Samaritan woman at the well. The women of Jerusalem who weep for Him on the way to the cross. It shows up in all those passages that describe Jesus as having compassion. This powerful verb is used over the sick who reach out to Jesus, a crowd that is hungry, a mother whose only son has died, and a king’s servant dreadfully in debt. A boy tormented by an evil spirit. Two blind men sitting by the roadside. A leper begging to be made clean. To all these, the Lord reached out.
Jesus felt what they were feeling not because He was an all-knowing God, but because He was all human man attuned to all that was human; not adultery, but to the adulteress; not to leprosy, but to the leper. Not to a dead Lazarus, but to his sorrowing sisters. In His humanness, he vibrated to and resonated with the loves and hates, the hopes and fears, the joys and sadness of each person who touched His life. This is the Jesus Christ who says blessed are you poor, you that hunger, you that weep. Blessed are you when people hate you. He knew what hurts them.
How did He get that way? In large measure by experiencing it. He did not discover poverty by reading unemployment figures in the Jerusalem Times: Jesus had no place to lay His head. No one had to tell Him what hunger tastes like, or what tears are all about; He went hungry and He wept. He didn’t just hear about hatred from His disciples, His own townspeople tried to throw Him over a cliff.
Jesus didn’t wait in Nazareth for the hungry and the sorrowing to make an appointment, He went out looking for them. One sentence in Matthew provides an apt description: Jesus went about to all their cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and cursing every kind of disease and infirmity.
Even more marvelously, Jesus not only knew what hurt His fellow Jew, He knows what hurts you and me. Your Christian living makes no sense unless you believe that, at this moment, Jesus knows what hurts you. And not only knows, but in knowing, seeks you out. Whatever your kind of poverty or hunger, however you weep, wherever you feel unloved, His plea to His people is His promise to us: come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Yes, Jesus Christ knows what hurts us and we can turn to Him with confidence. The problem is not with Christ; the problem is with many Christians. There is a danger in the Beatitudes. It is all too easy for me to repeat the words of Jesus: blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom; blessed are you that hunger, for you will be satisfied; blessed are you that weep, for now you shall laugh; blessed are you when people hate you for your reward will be great in Heaven.
It is the ever-present peril in any religion like ours to say to those who hurt you may have it rough, my friend, but keep a stiff upper lip because beyond this veil of tears there is another life. A life where virtue will be rewarded, where the good guys will have all the fun, and the bad guys will be roasted. Cheer up: it will be better when you die.
I do not deny that there is another life, but it is only half the story. The same Jesus Christ who told the poor, the hungry, the distressed and the despised that they were special to Him told us that we shall inherit His kingdom and eternal life only if we reach out to they who hunger and thirst, those who hunger for kindness and forgiveness. But even that good is not good enough. Not Christ-like enough. Not human enough.
I have to care. I have to love. As St. Vincent De Paul would tell his followers, unless you love, the poor will resent the bread that you give them. Loving the outcast, loving the unloved, is all but impossible unless you know what hurts them. Not from the newspaper, or the department of labor, but from experience. I am not suggesting that you run off to a Mission or our over-crowded prisons. Still, Lent is coming fast. Soon you will be moving from ashes to crucifixion, reliving the death that gave you life. If you are looking for a way to share Jesus Christ’s passion, share His compassion. All around you, where you work or play, there are people who hurt. Some of the hurt is obvious to the naked eye, but much of it is cooped up inside. Why not make Lent a search for another’s hurt? Ask God for increased sensitivity to needs and moods. Don’t be put off by a forbidding face, we all look like that sometimes. Bear with those who bore you. Above all, listen, be present to another with your whole self.
Supplement Lenten penance with the Lord’s Lenten special, reaching out to those who hurt in any way. Do that, and you just might turn the Gospel woes into Beatitudes. Blessed are you who are well fed, well housed, and well educated. Blessed are you who laugh and are loved, for you have enriched others and filled their hungers, have brought laughter to their lips and love to their lives. Blessed are you.
Each of you is a gifted man or woman. Gifted in more ways, perhaps, than your modesty will admit. What Jesus tells you is to use your gifts as He invites or commands you. To some He may say, give away all you have and come follow Me.
To others, share what you have, your faith, your hope, your compassion. Use it for your sisters and brothers. Remember, your most precious possession is yourself: give it away lavishly.