Towards the broken

Friday

Isaiah 53 (A Good Friday text)

3He was despised and rejected by others.

Psalm 22 (The appointed psalm for Good Friday)

File:Russian - Crucifixion - Walters 37309.jpg24He did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted.

“He was despised.” We have a natural abhorrence of disease and disfigurement. Abhorrence may seem too strong a word, but I would defend it. We all know people who can’t stand the sight of blood. We have a natural aversion to distortions of the human appearance. We pull away from those whose suffering seems unremitting. A crying child will invoke our sympathy, but a child who cannot be consoled will eventually make us want to turn away. We cannot bear it.

There is something strangely compelling about human tragedy that turns us into voyeurs watching on television, glancing at an accident as we drive by, or watching from a distance. But only from a distance. Too close, too real, or unremitting suffering overwhelms us.

Maybe it’s the feeling of helplessness. Maybe it’s the fear. I visited a widow in the hospital many years ago, her head held immovable by a steel ring and screws into her skull. She had fallen on the basement stairs and broken her neck. She lived now on a ventilator and a feeding tube. There was no future for her. There was no recovery. This was no fever that would pass, no wound whose pain could be lifted by a parent’s kiss. I came and sat with her. There was nothing to do but bear her burden with her for a moment. But I was haunted by the experience. There are some things you’d rather not see. She died when her ventilator failed and no one heard the alarm. Such a death haunts me, too. Unable to summon help. Unable to cry out. Unable to move. Dying alone. Haunting.

So we have this natural response to turn away from the afflicted. But Jesus does not turn away.

24He did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;

It’s not only the afflicted from whom we turn away. We turn away from the grieving, too; we want them to “get over it” and be “normal” again. We turn away from the addict, from the beggar, from those who differ too far from us. We stigmatize all kinds of people – which is an interesting word considering that the word “stigmata” refers to those who bear in their hands and feet the wounds of Christ.

3He was despised and rejected by others.

Maybe it was because he walked with the lowly that “he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted.” Or maybe it was simply because God is not like we are. God turns toward the suffering, not away. God turns toward the broken not away. God turns toward the crucified not away. God turns towards us with a compassion that does not grow weary, and a mercy that has no end.

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