Revisiting our personal values

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

Escaping from a terrible drought and famine, the prophet Elijah came across a widow at the city gate of Zarephath and asked her for a cup of water and a piece of bread (1 Kings. 17: 17-24). The woman told him that she was just then gathering some wood with which to cook her and her son's last meal. But Elijah insisted with the assurance, "The Lord, the God of Israel, says, 'The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.'" She then did as requested and the Lord's promise was fulfilled. He stayed with them till the end of the famine.

Some time later, the woman's son got sick and died. In no uncertain terms, she blamed Elijah for his death. In the face of this, Elijah could have left right away. But moved by her grief, he brought her son's body to his room, laid him on his bed, stretched himself over him, and prayed for the return of his life. It did and Elijah gave him back to his mother. At this, the woman said, "Now indeed I know that you are a man of God."

We see something similar happen in the gospel reading (Lk:7:11-17). Jesus, accompanied by His disciples and a large crowd, was on His way to the city of Nain when He came across a funeral procession. A man, the only son of his widowed mother, had died and was being brought out of the city to the cemetery. She was accompanied by a large number of her neighbors to somehow assuage her grief. Though nobody asked Him to do something, Jesus, moved with pity for the grieving widow, approached the coffin and said, "Young man, I tell you, arise!" The man did and began to speak. Jesus then gave him to his mother. Seized with fear, everyone glorified God and exclaimed, "A great prophet has arisen in our midst," and "God has visited his people."

From these two Bible stories we learn that there are people who care about other people; that they do not keep their distance from others in their sufferings but instead do something to remove or diminish them. This was what Elijah did to the widow of Zarephath. This was what Jesus did to the widow of Nain. This was what the neighbors did to the widow of Nain.

Suffering can either make or break us. We are familiar with what some people have done to themselves because of suffering - physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual which they believed they could no longer bear - despair or commit suicide. We are also familiar with how some people have handled their pains - they could still smile sweetly and live normally. Why the contrasting approaches to suffering!

Pain and suffering, which have been with us from the beginning of human existence, are evil. As Genesis tells us, they are the consequences of the sin of our first parents. But God allows them to happen because He can make good come out of evil. And He made an example of this with His own Son whom He allowed to suffer and die for our salvation. It is this belief that may sustain us amidst our sufferings.

What have we done when we are confronted by the concrete suffering of other people? What have we done when people share their pains and sufferings with us? Have we remained unmoved or have we involved ourselves in their suffering by lending a compassionate ear or extending a helping hand?

I have a priest-friend who was noted for his being late or even absent in our occasional meetings and social gatherings. Though very good natured, he was not very "popular" among his peers. But among the people he came in contact with, he was truly loved.

One day I asked him how he accomplished this, what his secret "weapon" was in dealing with people. He answered that when he was with a particular person who came to see him about something, e.g., share with him some good news or a problem, he considered him at that very moment as the most important person in the world and thus what he was going to share was also very important to my friend. Thus he gave his time and full attention to him and what he shared. Appointments and other obligations? These were also important he said but not as important as the person before him then and there.

Do we not see shades of Elijah and Jesus in the way my priest-friend dealt with people who came to him? How we wish that the same may be said of us. But is it not our experience that when a person comes to us in his need, we often say to ourselves that we have more important things to do and thus we do not give him our time? Or to get rid of him, do we not find ourselves giving him some money so we can go on with our day?

If this is the way we act before a person in need, then the words "God has visited his people" can never be said of us. A pity indeed since all of us are missioned to be God's eyes, ears, noses, mouths, hands and feet with and among His people, specially those who suffer!