Our bus came around a hill as the sun was setting on São Paulo, Brazil and those of us on the left side of the bus gazed at two giant hills facing the road. It was the most beautiful, yet most disgusting sight I had seen of São Paulo yet. Favelas. What a miserable word. The very fact that there is a word to describe such a terrible place stirs me. Under the setting sun, the hills were as still as a painting. Scrap pieces of trash made houses which appeared carelessly piled on top of one another in the overcrowded valley. My mind flashed to the sight of homeless people sleeping on the roadside under a bridge we had passed earlier. Their bony backs had made the candy in my mouth feel rotten as I considered their possible hunger. Many of us have never seen poverty like this. It seemed for a while that there were slums everywhere we looked. Honestly, it is a little frightening.
That sight heavily contrasted one we had seen earlier that day as we strolled through a park in São Paulo, leisurely passing the day under the noonday sun with a few friends we had made from camp. Around us, wealthier citizens too were enjoying a nice relaxed place of comfort in the shade of the green trees in the park. Families bonded in the parks’ festivities, some people jogged, others enjoyed their pets company.
With these images in mind, it is fascinating to consider that Jesus did not come into the world among the wealthy and powerful, but among the poor and the desolate. Much of his childhood he spent as a refugee, fleeing from the wealthy, and much of his adulthood he spent among the poor. He did not come leisurely passing his time in the parks and palaces of his time, instead, he went to the “favelas” and to the unwanted people around him. This prospect is very uncomfortable for many of us to think about. Did Jesus value comfort?
I think so, after all, he did say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NIV)
Comfort is a wonderful feeling. It is refreshing and relaxing. It is calming and restoring. Where there is comfort, there peace and prosperity dwell. Creativity and imagination flourish there. Pleasure and happiness are fostered in comfort. So why did Jesus not live in comfort on earth and put all who put their trust in Him into comfort? Why in the world did we come to São Paulo, Brazil if we had to leave the comfort of our own homes?
On Tuesday, our team went on a hike to a place deceptively called Pedra Grande (Little Pebble). It was long, painful, and, frankly, quite uncomfortable. The sun fried any skin that dared to stand against it, and the steep slope made it all the more difficult. We trudged upward for at least four hours. As we were pushing past the third hour, some of us made jokes that there were multitudes of sermons packed into the climb. We weren’t wrong. Life is a lot like an upward climb, at least for us believers. We are climbing higher and higher, and the trek is not easy. But the beauty of it is that we are at least getting closer to what we are pursuing — our God. Every day we come across new obstacles, new barriers, new difficulties, all of which are incredibly uncomfortable, as we pursue our Lord. But the cool thing is that our Lord is also with us as we are climbing, for he once endured the pain we have to in this life. He pushed past pain and problems of all kinds, but he endured, abiding all the while, relying on the Father’s strength, and fixing his eyes on the goal — God’s glory — the top of the mountain.
God is the leader of our journey. He leads us on paths that are uncomfortable but are most definitely good because He is good. His paths lead us on the most secure, and the most beautiful paths for us to walk. We just have to follow him. Even in the discomfort, there is comfort because we know that everything, including the discomfort, is for a reason that is good. The discomfort is not preferable, but it makes Christ’s presence all the sweeter in the midst of the trials, or the sunburns, or the long hikes, or the Brazilian slums.
This week we saw many uncomfortable sights, stood in uncomfortable situations, and tried to rest even when we were uncomfortable. Luckily, comfort is not our god, God is. And he will be present with us even in the most uncomfortable situations.
Jesus endured discomfort so that he might point others to the ultimate comforter. He lived in the dust because he knew there was something greater and he wanted those living in the dust to lift up their eyes. He knew that those closer to the dust were more likely to not be blinded by their comfort on earth. Discomfort is a terrible thing. But if discomfort causes us to lift our eyes and set our hopes on the greatest comfort, then praise God for uncomfortable places.
So let us not strive to be comfortable on earth, but to be faithful. Comfort does have its place — in rest, in promise, and in symbols — but it is only a taste of the comfort that is to come. So let us not be blinded by comfort on this earth. Let us long for the comfort that is to come. That comfort will forever satisfy those that have chosen it.
One day we will stand on the top of the mountain that God has climbed with us. He will stand with us, and we will gaze upon his glorious work, and upon the long path that he took us on. There we will see, there we will understand why we went the way we did. That day is near.