Responses to Suffering

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Responses to Suffering

by Gary Jansen
Liturgical Year: Lent

Many years ago, a noted psychologist asked an audience, “If I squeeze an orange, what comes out of it?” After a few seconds, someone shouted back, “Orange juice!” The psychologist smiled. “Yes,” he said, “orange juice. Why?” A few moments followed, and another audience member answered, “Because that’s what’s inside the orange.” The psychologist smiled again. “Yes, you don’t squeeze an orange and get apple juice. You squeeze an orange and you get orange juice, because that’s what’s inside it. We could say the juice is the orange’s essence.”

The psychologist then looked at the audience and asked another question: “So what comes out of you when someone puts the squeeze on you? When someone is mean or disappoints you or slanders you?” Silence. No one answered. At least, not out loud.

Responses to Suffering

So, what comes out when someone puts the squeeze on us or treats us badly? What comes out of us when we’re under stress? When things don’t go as planned? When we’re stuck in traffic? When we make a mistake at work? When our spouse, child, friend, or coworker disappoints us? When we’re betrayed? When we could have sworn there was more money in the checking account, yet the check bounced? What comes out? Anger? Vitriol? Sadness? Depression? Frustration? Fear? Revenge? I’ve experienced just about all those emotions, during disappointing and uncertain times. Goodness, what does that say about me, about what’s inside of me?

Here’s another question: What came out of Jesus when the world put the squeeze on him, when he was mocked, beaten, and crucified? There were tears, blood, and water. But there was also strength, heroism, compassion, sorrow, resilience, gratitude, love, and forgiveness. There was peace and acceptance. Just as we can learn what is in an orange when it is squeezed, and just as we can learn more about who we are when we examine how we react to the challenges we face, we can learn more about Jesus by reflecting on what came out of him during the most intense period of his life.

Though Jesus seems passive throughout his Passion—he never lifts a finger against anyone and he barely speaks—his acceptance, forgiveness, and nonviolence are nonetheless revolutionary, providing first-century countercultural insight on how to live justly in the twenty-first-century world. We can see this in how he reacts throughout his Passion in the Scriptural Stations of the Cross. Here are just a few examples:

Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prays.
Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin. He is steadfast.
Jesus is denied by Peter. He accepts others’ weaknesses.
Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. He thinks of others.
Jesus promises his kingdom to the good thief. He forgives.
Jesus speaks to his mother and the disciple. He watches over his family.

As Jesus responds to his sorrow, he is expressing to us the best of what it means to be human. There are no miracles here. No sudden healings. No casting out of demons. No parables. Someone coming to the story of Jesus’ Passion for the first time, not knowing anything else of the Gospels, would think that this is just an ordinary person, someone who experienced loneliness, heartache, pain, exhaustion, and ultimately death. He’s no different from any of us.

Yet, there is something extraordinary here, and we can see that in how Jesus responds when the world puts the squeeze on him. He doesn’t freak out, whine, or feel sorry for himself. No, instead he counters the blows, torture, and mockery with elegance, love, and forgiveness.

He shows us what it means to be truly human.


Gary Jansen 

Gary Jansen is senior editor of religion and spirituality at the Crown Publishing Group at Penguin Random House.

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