Sunday, February 5, 2012

Scripture Reflection: Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Cycle B
(Jb 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39)

We begin with an overview of Sunday’s Liturgy. The first reading surely has to be one of the most depressing in the lectionary. Job is broken hearted and totally depressed. He sees this as the universal human condition. This is what Jesus has come to redeem in His ministry of preaching the Kingdom which begins with the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and then all who come to Him. And this service to all both weak and strong is what Paul accepts as his duty and each Christian’s. Through our participation in the Eucharist and our personal prayer our own lives are healed and we are strengthened to follow Christ in care for others. Jesus directs our eyes towards those who suffer the tragedies of life. He shows us how to grasp their hands, to help them up, to bind up wounds, and to be healers.

In our reflection on today’s readings, we start with the Book of Job who is usually seen as the story of a good man whose faith is tested through suffering. In the end he will prove to be the faithful believer in God’s mercy although still not understanding God’s ways. But in today’s passage of his lament Job certainly does not seem to be the poster boy for the popular expression: “As patient as Job!” The popular wisdom of the ancients would hold that if you suffer well then you must have done something wrong and offended God in some way. Job is not about to patiently accept this. He protests vocally and eloquently that he has done nothing wrong so why is God allowing these terrible things to be happening? And when we hear his complaint there is the uncomfortable feeling that no matter how successful our lives, or how well off, or even how good, we might be walking on thin ice and at any moment it could break through. We hear of the divorce of close friends, of a serious sickness striking someone our own age, or watching the spectacular sinking of the Costa Concordia on its routine sailing and the weeping and anxious faces of passengers and rescuers. And, more than an uncomfortable feeling comes the terrifying question: “Is there a God out there who cares what happens to each and every one of us?” It calls for both faith and courage to believe that God really does heal the brokenhearted; a faith which rests on a solid foundation.

And perhaps this is why the Gospel of St. Mark at its outset shows the encounters with Christ over a broad range of experiences. The ground of the real world in the midst of people with real afflictions, obsessions and interior injuries is the ground on which Jesus sets out to proclaim the Good News. The Gospel gives us a foundation for faith when it shows Jesus healing with a gentle touch and words of power. The ancient world believed the world was locked in mortal combat between forces of good and evil represented by angels and demons. So the Gospel text is not simply about healing and exorcism but is showing the power of God in Jesus casting out the forces of evil in our world and establishing there the Kingdom of God. In describing the healing of Simon’s mother in law, Mark uses expressions which sound quite ordinary but are anything but. Jesus “helped her up.” This is the same expression often used in the New Testament resurrection stories. Mark is implying that this person is given a new life - a life that only the Risen Christ can give.

And what does this “new life” look like? Well, Mark says that when she was healed, the woman began to “wait on them.” But the word he uses is “diakoneo,” the word for Church work or Christian Service. Again, the implication is that she “waits” on the Community, she serves i.e. does the work of the Community. When people experience a new life from Christ then they want to share and they are able to serve others. And so many involved in this “deaconal” work of serving, helping others as Jesus did them, say that they get more out of what they do than what they put into it. As the Peace Prayer of St. Francis reminds us: “In giving, we receive”.

Suffering remains a mystery for us as it did for Job. What we heard in today’s Gospel is not a solution to the mystery but the Power of Jesus over suffering. He takes on our suffering so that we can be set free. We celebrate today that what Jesus did for Simon’s mother in law and those afflicted by pain and evil, He can do for us. He extends His hand to us, to raise us from the destructive, deadly forces of pride, anger, envy, gluttony, lust, avarice and sloth to New Life.

His new life doesn’t resolve the mystery for us. It gives us the power to see the needs of others and to be free to respond to make time for the children, to take care of aging parents, to mending marriages or friendships, to patiently soldier on after misfortune. In other words, in your own quiet ways, to do as Jesus did. And may He bless you in the doing!

– Fr. Seraphin Conley, T.O.R.