Pope Francis speaks with members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission Pope Francis speaks with members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission  (VATICAN MEDIA Divisione Foto)

Pope Francis: ‘Bible shows Jesus’ closeness to suffering humanity’

Pope Francis meets with members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and encourages biblical scholars to explore Jesus’ example of compassion and inclusion when faced with the suffering of others.

By Devin Watkins

The Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded its annual plenary assembly in Rome on Thursday, which focused on the theme of illness and suffering in the Bible.

Pope Francis met with members of the Commission to commend their work to explore this “deeply existential theme” that touches the life of every human person.

“Our wounded nature,” he said, “bears within itself the realities of limitation and finitude, and suffers the contradictions of evil and pain.”

Trasforming the ‘sieve of suffering’

The Pope said the topic of human suffering and illness is close to his heart, since these issues are “adversaries” that every Christian is called to confront in a humane way.

Rather than avoiding the topic of suffering like a taboo, he said, we should endure trials “by living in relation with others” and allow God to turn “the sieve of suffering” into an opportunity to mature and grow in faith.

Jesus, said Pope Francis, “exhorts us to take care of those living in situations of infirmity, with the determination to defeat illness. At the same time, He gently invites us to join our sufferings to His salvific offer, as a seed that bears fruit.”

Touching suffering, not offering trite words

Turning to the theme of compassion, the Pope noted the many Biblical passages in which Jesus is moved by those He meets who are suffering, such as the exhausted crowd which He feeds, the blind who beseech Him, and the many sick people whom He welcomes and heals.

“Jesus does not explain suffering but bends towards those who suffer,” said the Pope. “He does not approach pain with generic encouragement and sterile consolations, but accepts its drama, allowing Himself to be touched by it.”

Sacred Scripture, he added, does not offer us a “recipe book of feelings” or a handbook of prepared phrases to say to people in pain.

As is clear in the book of Job, the Bible “shows us faces, encounters, and concrete stories” that break the mould of “religious theories that link suffering with divine punishment.”

Christ, said the Pope, transformed human suffering by making it His own and offering it to the Father as a “gift of love.”

“Whoever assimilates Sacred Scripture,” he said, “purifies the religious imagination from wrong attitudes, learning to follow the path indicated by Jesus: to physically touch human suffering, with humility, gentleness, and seriousness, in order to bring, in the name of the incarnate God, the closeness of a salvific and concrete support.”

Antidote to self-closure in trials

Pope Francis then turned to the theme of “inclusion,” noting that the term is not found in the Bible but saying it “expresses a prominent trait of Jesus’ style.”

He said the Lord excluded no one from God’s salvation but rather welcomed all and offered everyone “total healing, in body, soul, and spirit.”

“Through the experience of suffering and illness,” said the Pope, “we, as the Church, are called to walk together with everyone, in Christian and human solidarity, opening opportunities for dialogue and hope in the name of common fragility.”

In conclusion, Pope Francis invited the members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission to delve into the topic of compassion and inclusion “with critical rigor and fraternal spirit.”

“The Word of God is a powerful antidote to every closure, abstraction, and ideologization of faith,” he concluded. “Understood in the Spirit in which it was written, it increases passion for God and man, ignites charity, and revives apostolic zeal.”

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11 April 2024, 10:50