At small group tonight, we covered part of Matthew 16. Jesus talks about embracing the suffering in life and dying to ourselves, becoming more selfless, less self centered.
Why embrace suffering? I think one of the main points is learning empathy for your fellow human beings. Nothing unites us like suffering.
On my way home I tuned into NPR. They were talking to an elderly woman. She is trying to survive on Social Security, Medicare, and Food Stamps. Her housing costs are higher than her Social Security earnings. The only food she has comes from her monthly food stamp allotment and what she can gather from a local food pantry. She’s behind on her rent. Medicare doesn’t cover copays, and neither can she.
She stated that purchasing a bar of soap would be a luxury most months. That hit home. We’ve been donating things like soap for almost a year now to local shelters. I always feel like it’s not enough, or that we’re flooding them with silly soap, but maybe not.
The interviewer went on to ask her about the current state of our country. You see, her parents had survived the Great Depression, and she remembers living through World War II, when times were likely tougher. She said, back then, people pulled together as communities. Those who had more, shared. It wasn’t perfect, but she’s not seeing that kind of thing now, not on such a wide scale, not with such selflessness.
Prodded further she shared that she believed we’ve undergone too wide of a disconnect between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. She said we’re too afraid of one another. Neighbors don’t even check in on neighbors. Fear of so many things, terrorism, violence, money scams, holds us back from helping one another.
I couldn’t help but think, this was exactly what Jesus was talking about. We fear the suffering. As a friend of mine would say, we insulate ourselves, comfort our own lives.
Because we have not suffered along side the have-nots, we have a disconnect. We lose any empathy. We don’t want to see other people’s problems because we seem to think that trouble might be contagious.
I don’t think Jesus was necessarily saying that those that have plenty should give it all up so they can understand the poor. I think he was saying that, when trouble hits, learn from it. When it hits other people, come along side them, not just to help, but to learn and experience it. Learn to have that empathy so you’re not afraid but empowered to give when and what you can. I think empathy kills off some of that fear too. In its absense, love and community can grow. It would be nice to live in a world where a 50¢ bar of soap isn’t a luxury.