The other day I was waiting for a train at one of the subway stations in Boston. It was very hot, and there were a lot of people standing around. In the midst of everyone, about 10 feet away from me was an older woman. She was dressed harriedly, with long, grey hair. Her neck was bent over, and her head faced the ground. Near her feet were a slew of bags. I would have to say about 8 to ten of them.
She was reaching with her hands to clump these bags together and shift them around, preparing for the incoming train. As the train arrived, I looked over and noticed that there were people around her. But after preparing her bags, she became motionless. The people around her moved to get on the train, and I could see that she could see that there was no way she could get her bags on the train.
I approached her and asked, “Do you need a hand?” She raised her head and I could finally see her face, which I noticed bore a smile. Then she nodded.
So, I clumped a whole bunch of the plastic bags together in one hand and gave them a lift, while she took the rest. I was immediately struck by their heaviness. This was no easy burden to carry around. By now everyone else boarded the train, and we then climbed up the stairs ourselves to get on.
Still hunched over, she cleared out a space around one of the double seats, as if to indicate a spot to put the bags. “Where do you want me to out them? Here? OK.” I put the bags down, and then she lifted her head again. There was the same smile. I smiled, too. Then, I went over to an open seat at another part of the car.
I watched from there when she moved to get off a few stops later. She gathered her bags together, and while getting off one of the other passengers this time helped to clear her path. After getting off, she continued on her way, with her head down.
When Jesus comes out of the desert in Luke’s Gospel, he goes to his local synagogue and he’s the lector for the liturgy. He reads out loud a passage from the prophet Isaiah. Now, that is a very important passage, because he is talking about what his mission is all about, for the very first time. This is it, this is the summary. The Catholic Church has a big catechism, but if you want to know in one nutshell what Jesus does, if you want to know what it is to follow him, then this very moment in the synagogue is a huge.
He says the Spirit of God is upon him, and one of the things he’s going to do because he has that Spirit is proclaim recovery of sight to the blind. Now, of course, we have our English translation of the Bible that a lot of times can’t capture the nuances, because that’s what happens with translations. Well, I’ll tell you what “recovery of sight” means in the original Greek: it means “look up”.
It means that someone who is bent down and can’t see other’s faces, who can’t look someone else in the eye, Jesus is going to give that person the overwhelming desire and strength to lift their head, the freeing sense of dignity to see someone’s face and look them in the eyes and smile.
By carrying their burdens.
When you share others’ burdens and lighten their load when they need help, you are doing something very important and powerful. Don’t let all the doctrines and traditions and laws and rules and ceremonies and activities in the church make you forget what Jesus’ mission is really all about.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2)