“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us” (Matt 1:23). In this short rendering we witness a crisp yet profound description of the identity of Jesus Christ and the purpose of his incarnation. For this exercise our focus is on deepening our understanding of “God’s with-ing” as an act of solidarity with the suffering of humanity. Jesus Christ as Immanuel is God’s concrete, visible, and radical act of compassionate love in the face of human suffering.
Recall Jesus’ encounter with a leper in Mark 1:41–42. Deformed in all sorts of ways and ostracized by people around him, the leper “knelt down and begged” Jesus to “make him clean” (v. 40). This heartfelt request that bubbled up from a place of incalculable pain and suffering and the posture of humility, reverence, and submission the leper showed evoked a response of “God’s with-ing” captured in the phrase “[Christ was] moved with compassion” (v. 41).
We all have been visited by suffering in all its forms—from physical to relational, from psychological to spiritual. Our body is weakened by disease, our relationships torn apart by wrong choices and missed opportunities, our self-worth and confidence shattered by dark shadows of a painful past, and our faith tested by an acute sense of God’s absence. No matter the cause of suffering the impact seems to be the same—it is isolating, excruciatingly painful, even senseless and random at times.
Like the leper in the narrative we often find ourselves pleading earnestly for God to intervene, to heal our broken selves and relationships, to take us out of darkness and into the light of peace, joy, and a sense of well-being. Or like the throng people who followed and surrounded Christ our countenance may reveal a deep desire for rest and nourishment from a life that is adrift, disoriented, marked with scarcity, hunger, and thirst of all kinds. No matter the ache of our heart God is with us, his compassion is assured, and his accompaniment during times of turmoil and hardship is steadfast and secure.
The face of this compassion may vary—some of us may obtain healing and restoration, while others may be strengthened and their faith firmly rooted to withstand pain and suffering.
However this face is shown upon us, however the compassionate presence of God is made manifest only one thing is for certain—God is with and in that “with-ing” God made a “commitment to live in solidarity with us, to share our joys and pains, to defend and protect us, and to suffer all of life with us.” The greatest miracle is not the healing and the cure! It is the incarnation of God in Christ, the “Word who became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) and made himself vulnerable to pain and suffering so that he can enter into our own pain with loving-kindness and compassion.
God knows our suffering! God shares our pain and sorrow and participates in our struggles! God has taken upon himself our iniquity and granted us healing for no other reason except love. His “with-ing” springs from the deep well of compassion that reaches out and embraces all suffering in order to transform it and to give witness to the “beautiful fruits of solidarity with our condition.” Hence, we come before God to receive this divine compassion freely offered to us unmerited and unbounded.*
The meditation below is an attempt to open our heart and mind to God’s generous gift of compassion. This active yet quiet form of prayer prepares us to be indwelt by the Spirit of God so that we can have the mind of Christ infusing all that we are and all that we do.
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*Excerpt from the book Compassionate Presence, pp.85ff