Focal Passage: Matt. 1:13-23
“How long must we wait, oh Lord, for you to help us?” These were the words of a zealot-minded
malcontent in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 miniseries, Jesus of Nazareth. Roman
soldiers had just raided the town of Nazareth, leaving this revolutionary no
recourse but to pose a piercing question that has reverberated throughout
centuries of Jewish history: “How long?” But as the shattered militant wept
facedown in the Galilean dust, he never noticed the small child who emerged
from the crowd to witness the unfolding scene. That child was Jesus. His
village had been raided, too.
Our scripture passage for today paints a terrifying picture.
Herod has just ordered his minions to Bethlehem with instructions to kill all
children two and under.
Only because of a dream warning of the danger does the holy
family escape the impending infanticide. Thus as soon as he is born, Jesus is
His birth causes an upheaval in a fallen creation, as if the
world is allergic to the only medicine that can make it well.
To compound matters, Herod’s cruelty is left unexplained.
Instead, his viciousness serves as stinging reminder that we know little about
the problem of pain, or how a benevolent and powerful God can allow the
innocent to suffer.
In Zeffirelli’s film, the boy Jesus does not answer the
militant’s question. In fact, his silence is deafening.
The poignancy of the
scene, however, is not in the answer Jesus provides or withholds; it is in the
fact that Jesus is a citizen of Nazareth as well. God has entered into the
suffering of his creation, and yet no one seems to notice. While humans await
an answer to their distress, God remains silent, and decides to wait with
The Christmas story does not explain the problem of pain,
but it does reveal how God is dealing with it. Perhaps as believers we should
confront pain in a similar way. Instead of trying to rationalize or theologize
human suffering to those who are hurting, what if we were just present with
them? If you think about it, that’s actually a lot more difficult than passing
off some hackneyed “explanation” of why God allows bad things to happen to good
We are surrounded by a host of hurting individuals who are
asking, “How long?” They don’t need an “answer” from us; they need us to ask
the question with them. Here is where we take our cue from Jesus. As the only
one qualified to address the problem of human suffering, Jesus opted to stand
in the crowd with us.