The French philosopher and psychoanalyst Cynthia Fleury published Le soin est un humanisme (Gallimard) in May 2019. There she stated «when a civilisation is not devoted to caring for others, it is nothing», and little did she imagine that a few months later the outbreak of a pandemic would illustrate the deep meaning of her words. Fleury offers a vision of human vulnerability inseparable from the regenerative capacity of every person. She argues that from the experience of vulnerability comes a feeling of responsibility towards others. It is such care that makes us human beings.
Hers is a humanist perspective which faces the existential despair and disorientation caused by Covid-19 and its consequences, but this conception seems to leave God out of the picture.
The biblical narration of Luke 7, 11-17 comes to our help and may give us an answer.
The passage presents the scene of Jesus’s encounter with a widowed mother who is accompanying the funeral procession of her only son. A text written mostly with nouns and verbs, without any nuances, a linguistic style that emphasises what is essential, that is to say, it underscores the action that defines who somebody is.
The mother is representative of vulnerability in Jewish society: woman, widow, without her only son. She does nothing, makes no gesture, she is just there.
When Jesus saw her suffering he was moved by pity and said to her: «Do not weep». After which he touched the bier, said to the son: «arise» and restored him to his mother.
There is no pleading on the part of the woman nor is there any prerequisite for a miracle laid down by Jesus.
Nobody makes Jesus act.
We do not know whether her son had died of a disease, had been a victim of an injustice or was a criminal.
It is not stated whether this is a religiously observant Jewish family.
There is neither any discourse nor any theological teaching.
There is only human vulnerability and Jesus’s feeling of compassion.
Only Jesus speaks and it is to say to one person: «do not weep»; and to the other: “arise».
There is a sole purpose: to free these people from agony.
He simply approaches the man and touches his bier.
Through the power of mere words Jesus shows himself capable of restoring life.
The scene closes with the conclusion drawn by the people who saw it: «God has visited his people», although Jesus has not mentioned God.
The bareness of the description underlines the fact that God’s spontaneous feeling is to be compassionate towards human vulnerability. This is what God is like. It is for God to bring about solace and life. This is just God, and people realise that God is among them precisely in this gesture.
The austerity of the narration is not intended to downplay the human actions as an instrumental role for God’s intervention. These are needed as we can clearly see in the Gospels, which should be read altogether. What the text does is to demonstrate God’s essence, which is what gives fruitfulness and meaning to human mediations.
Jesus touched the bier. He cannot make physical contact today, but he does so in people who, moved by compassion, -the essence of God- respond to human vulnerability. That is what, in other words, is expressed in Cynthia Fleury’s discourse, even though she is not fully aware of it.