Image: Snow covered trees along the Dempster highway
Today in the Gospel, Jesus uses the image of a woman in the midst of labor as he addresses his disciples and continues to prepare them for his impending crucifixion. The idea that Jesus would use such a feminine image, as he speaks to a roomful of men, only highlights the universal nature of the suffering and pain that the physical act of giving birth evokes. It arouses in us today the same feelings that it would have two thousand years ago, that of an all-consuming struggle from which, ultimately, new life will be brought into the world kicking and crying.
The pain of childbirth is a very solitary experience. No doubt a couple are of great support to one another as they wait patiently for their baby to be born. A husband can soothe his wife when she is uncomfortable or not feeling like her normal self. He can do things around the house to prepare for the arrival of their child. But for nine months the mother, herself, must go through the physical and emotional changes that often cannot be comforted and she eventually must endure the pain of childbirth itself.
It strikes me that as Jesus uses this image, he sees what he is about to go through as a process that is similar to that of giving birth. For three years he and his disciples have been moving toward this moment as he has spent his time teaching them, mentoring them, and allowing them to be a part of his ministry to the poor and abandoned. They have certainly been a great support to Jesus as they shared in the experience, but now Jesus must submit himself to the final act of self surrender during which he will be entirely on his own. He will suffer and give his life for the purpose of bring something brand new into the world.
The joy of new life captures the hearts of us all. Place a newborn baby into the arms of an elderly grandmother and watch the years fall away from her face. I recently watched my young nephew, still a toddler, meeting his new baby brother for the first time and the immediate bond between the siblings was so apparent and heart warming.
For the disciples, this meeting of new life would take place when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus needed to bring into the world and was willing to give his life for. Jesus tells his disciples that, for a time, they will grieve and be afraid and question and doubt and go through their own time of suffering. But when the Holy Spirit comes, all that will be forgotten, the way the pain of childbirth is forgotten the moment a baby is put into the waiting arms of its mother.
Suffering is a part of life and it may seem like some people get more than their fair share. Suffering on its own is something we try to avoid at all cost. It is the reason why we see so many good people turn to self-medication with drugs and alcohol. Nobody wants to feel pain. Our readings today remind us however that if we embrace our faith, we can turn suffering into something else, into something new. We can go through it and know that because of Christ’s sacrifice for us we are not alone.
We read, “You have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
Turn to the Lord in your suffering and ask for what you need and know that anything you ask of the Father in the name of Jesus will be given to you.