Solomon Rosenberg tells this story from his time in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. He, his wife, his two sons, and his mother were all arrested and relocated to a labor camp. The rules were simple: As long as you can do your work, you are permitted to live. When you become too weak to do your work, then you will be exterminated. The conditions were harsh and inhumane. The prisoners were given little to eat and the weak among them would begin to waste away until the inevitable day they could no longer work and they were taken to the gas chambers.
Rosenberg watched his mother and father being marched off to their deaths when they became too weak. He knew that his youngest son, David, would be next because David had always been a frail child. Every evening when Rosenberg came back into the barracks after his hours of labor, he would search for the faces of his family. When he found them, they would huddle together, embrace one another, and thank God for another day of life. But each day, David looked just a little bit more frail and Solomon always feared the next day would be the day he was taken away.
One day Rosenberg came back and couldn’t find his family. He stormed through the barracks in a panic until he finally discovered his oldest son, Joshua, in a corner, huddled, weeping. He said, “Josh, tell me it’s not true.” Joshua turned and said, “It is true, Poppa. Today David was not strong enough to do his work, so they came for him.”
“But where is your mother?” asked Mr. Rosenberg, “She is still strong enough to work!”
“Oh Poppa,” he exclaimed. “When they came for David, he was afraid and he was crying. Momma said, ‘There is nothing to be afraid of, David,’ and she pulled him close and held him. Then she took his hand and went with him so he wouldn’t have to be alone.”
This true story from one of the most horrific times in history is a powerful parable about the meaning of compassion. Compassion, literally translated, means “to suffer with”. This portrait of a mother’s willingness to suffer with her son, on this Good Friday, can’t help but remind me of God’s willingness to suffer with humanity. Jesus was not exempted from the ugly side of humanity. He saw, first hand, what barbarity unthinking mobs were capable of. He saw, first hand, what cruelty an oppressive state could perpetrate against those they saw as less than human. He knew forced labor and the dread of death. And he felt the pain of a man losing everything, resorting to a little bit of psalm he learned as a child to express what he alone could not express: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He did it all so we wouldn’t have to be alone.
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…