In Jesus, we see God’s desire to become incarnate for our sake. In the humanity of Jesus, God enters into all of humanity. In this humanity he seeks out the darkest, most threatening and most frightening of places, driven by the irresistible blaze of love.

This raises the question of how Jesus, as a human being among other human beings, dealt with the human susceptibility to suffering. Did he also become ensnared by fear or desire? Was that also his only defence, his only answer to the desperate atmosphere of threatening suffering in which our lives are caught?

The story of Jesus is different. In the midst of suffering he remained rooted in love. His suffering became a story of love and the basis for love’s manifestation in all its greatness: “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15, 13)

Jesus incorporates suffering into God’s great act of reaching out. It becomes an integrating element in this, indeed it becomes the accomplishment of this act and its greatest sign. He lifts suffering up and transforms it. From being a slippery slope towards death, it becomes instead the springboard towards a brilliant radiance, towards resurrection. This does not only apply to “neutral” suffering such as sickness and natural disasters, but also to the suffering that we cause one another. It becomes an invitation to forgiveness, to magnanimity and to compassion.

Joris van Ael, Jezus’ lijdensverhaal in 16 iconen, (Averbode / Ten Have, 2007) 19.

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