In today’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a man at the synagogue whose hand was “shriveled up.” The Pharisees were watching Jesus to see if he would heal him on the sabbath, hoping to catch him in an act where they could accuse him. Jesus calls the man forward and says to the Pharisees: “Is it permitted to do a good deed on the sabbath--or an evil one? To preserve life--or to destroy it?” At this they remained silent. He looked around at them angrily, for he was deeply grieved that they had closed their minds against him.” Then Jesus heals the man and the Pharisees go off to plot how to kill him.
Look at Jesus’ heart. He sees the man in need and he knows the intent of the Pharisees. He addresses what lies at the heart of the encounter: a choice between life and death. In their silence, the Pharisees choose death, that is, a rejection of Jesus, of the life that is at hand in the truth of the Father’s love. And Jesus feels grief. Here we see the heart of God aching and yearning for those who close their minds and hearts to him.
The whole-hearted feeling of grief unlocks a powerful source of life, energy and love in our hearts and so often we run from grief. We can become frightened by the feelings here and of what this grief means for us. Our culture tells us too that we need to move on, to pursue success and to “be strong.” We can deny the human experience of grieving, truncating it in the death of loved ones and denying it in daily life. What do I mean?
When I mention grief, what do you and I recall? When we think of grief we might recall the death of someone we love, or the death of a relationship, or maybe even the loss of a job. However, there are also so many other events and circumstances where we grieve each day: grief for someone in our family who suffers with physical or mental illness, grief for someone who has become estranged from us, grief when a close friend moves away, grief when we have hurt someone we love, grief in the midst of financial struggles, grief when we see violence, injustice, or hatred, grief when someone we love walks away from a faith that once sustained them. These and many other events happen daily and yet we often fail to acknowledge them and to bring them to God in prayer.
Jesus knows our grief—in both those events in life that are major and in those events that are small. Notice how easily the Gospel writer can state that Jesus was angry because he felt grief at the rejection of the Pharisees. Jesus understands our grief: he empathizes and is eager to offer us comfort in our daily sorrows and losses.
In coming to understand the principles of spiritual discernment, St. Ignatius Loyola refers to Satan as “the enemy of human nature.” This powerful phrase points to a very subtle temptation to deny that which we find painful. Often we think the pain will just go away. Even more dangerously, we can think that being Christian means that we need to be “strong”. We often deny our humanity by ignoring what “grieves” our hearts.
So, I invite you and I to come to prayer and to the altar with what lies heavy in our hearts this day to let Jesus assure us, comfort us and strengthen us. Underneath the grief lies deep love: the love of God for us and the love in our hearts for others. Perhaps we can let ourselves be comforted by the words of this familiar hymn:
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto me and rest.
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