About a year and a half ago, Pope Francis was on his tour of Asia, when an extraordinarily brave Filipino girl grabbed the Pope and asked him why there is so much suffering in the world. The Pope, being the kind of guy he is, took this child seriously, he praised her for her deep thinking, her compassion for others, and spoke of our basic human need to answer that question. He then didn’t answer that question, because the answers we have are theological rather than practical. Yes, there’s evil in the world, and no, we don’t have all the answers about why God lets suffering persist in the world. What we do know, Francis told us, is while God does not cause suffering, He is willing to be with us in our suffering, to suffer with us, to weep with us.
“In the Gospel Reading, Jesus and a crowd of people are entering Nain when they meet a widowed mother and a bier carrying the dead body of her only son. Jesus says to her, “Do not weep!” Then he halts the procession by touching the bier, and he speaks to the body of her son: “Young man, I tell you, arise!” And the dead man does arise!
“There other cases of Jesus’ raising of the dead, but there is something special about this case. In general, Jesus does miracles in response to requests for help; certainly, in other cases he raises the dead because someone has asked him for help. Jairus petitions Jesus to heal his daughter, and Lazarus’s sisters send to Jesus for help when Lazarus is dying. But no one asks Jesus for help in the case of the widow’s son. In this unusual case, Jesus sizes up the situation without anyone’s telling him anything about the weeping woman or her son. Somehow he seems to know that she is a widow and that this is her only child; and he is moved with pity for her. Without anyone’s recognizing who he is, or asking him for anything, or showing any sign of faith in him, Jesus initiates the miracle and raises the dead man.
“Why does Jesus do this? Maybe when he sees the widow of Nain heartbroken over the death of her only son, the case of his own mother pierces his heart. We don’t know who was in that large crowd accompanying Jesus to Nain, but his mother does travel with him at least sometimes. Maybe she was there with him at Nain. Jesus is her only son too, and she is also a widow when Jesus dies. When Jesus dies, then she will be heartbroken and weeping for her only son. In his humanity, Jesus may be moved by the weeping widow of Nain to compassion not only for her but also for his own mother.
“So maybe Jesus initiates this miracle to comfort both these women. Maybe he hopes that when his mother is weeping for him at the foot of his cross, the memory of his restoring the son of the widow of Nain to his weeping mother will come into the mind of his own mother, to comfort her, to help her wait till his resurrection.”1
We get to hear these stories so that in our suffering and in our empathy, in our taking on the suffering of others, we too may be comforted by the empathy of Christ, by His healing power, by Him being with us in our suffering. We also hear these stories so that we can figure out what our response to suffering, our response as Christians, must be. Few of us – probably none of us – will ever raise the dead like Jesus did, but we can still be agents of Christ in helping to give the suffering hope, to take on the burden with them, to weep with those who mourn.
On that same trip to the Philippines, the Pope told the crowd that “If you don’t learn how to weep, you’re not a good Christian!” “Jesus wept for his dead friend; he wept in his heart for that family that had lost their daughter; he wept in his heart when he saw that mother, a poor widow, taking her son to be buried; he was moved and wept in his heart when he saw the multitudes like sheep without a shepherd. If you don’t learn how to weep, you’re not a good Christian!”2
So that’s our question for today: have we learned to weep, weep for the lost, the broken, and the weak, the sick and the suffering, for the fallen and for those who don’t yet know the love and peace we know in Jesus? Have we learned to weep? And who are we if we don’t?
1Eleonore Stump, http://liturgy.slu.edu/10OrdC060516/reflections_stump.html