05Feb 5th February. 5th Sunday of Year B.

Job 7:1-4, 6-7. Job wrestles with the problem of why the innocent should suffer. As a result of his own sufferings he takes a pessimistic view of life.

1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23. St. Paul becomes “all things to all” in order to bring them the Good News of Salvation. We need to be both generous and flexible, in finding the best way to share our faith.

Mk 1:29-39. After a busy round of activity and healing all who needed him, even Jesus finds it necessary to escape a lonely place to pray. Then he starts a new phase of his mission.

Theme: Sickness and suffering, especially in the young and innocent, is the hardest test of our faith. But God is merciful and compassionate and invites us to bring all our troubles and sorrows to him.

Signs of God’s Healing

There is considerable debate about whether the people whom Jesus healed were really possessed by the devil or were just mentally disturbed. The debate is utterly besides the point. These individuals were deeply troubled and Jesus healed them. Jesus came to heal both body and soul. Most scripture scholars now agree that miracles were an important part of Jesus’s ministry and of the memory of that ministry in the early church. We simply cannot abandon them to please those who say miracles are impossible. The precise explanation of how these healings were accomplished is another matter and perhaps one that is also besides the point. Jesus did not work miracles to prove anything. Rather they were signs that God’s healing love is at work in the world.

Once upon a time some doctors discussing whether prayer helped their patients. “Does it do any good,” they asked, “for people to pray for those who are sick?” One group said “Well, it helps those who pray to feel that they’re doing something for the sick person. But it really doesn’t help the sick person at all.” The other group said that they had the impression that prayer really had a positive effect on sick people. The first group said “That’s scientifically impossible!” So they decided to try a “double blind” experiment on those who were recover from heart problems. They would have prayers said for some and not for the others to see what happened. The doctors didn’t know who was chosen to be prayed for and the subjects of the prayers didn’t know either. However a list of first names were given to those who were to do the praying. So neither the “pray-ers” nor the “pray-ees” nor the researchers knew who had been chosen to be the target of prayer. What happened? Those for whom praers were said recovered more quickly. “See!” said those who had argued that prayer worked, “there’s more things under heaven than science dreams of.” (This true story of research was reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine.)

Space for God

To be constantly on the move, being engrossed in earthly affairs, has always been regarded as one of the great obstacles to contemplation of God, recognising him at work in our lives, and entering into close communion with him. So the reason why people became hermits and lived in solitude. But, surprisingly, the last chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that to know God means to be constantly on the move, but on a different plane. “Here we have no lasting city,” it says, but we look for one in the life to come. In other words, the search for God is something that goes on and on, a continual seeking after a new and more profound understanding of who God is, what we are, and what the meaning is of life here on earth.

For the people of the Old Testament, who as yet did not believe in a general resurrection, the virtuous person was held to be rewarded in this world with prosperity, health and long life; whereas the sinner was punished by poverty, sickness and untimely death. Such was the theory, but in reality it did not always work out like that. The Book of Job set out to try and find a reason as to why God, who is the God of justice, could allow a good person to suffer. Job was a virtuous man who trusted in God, believed in God’s goodness and power; and here he was, robbed of his family, stripped of all his possessions, and a prey to extreme bodily affliction. Moreover, the suffering of his body is matched by the torture of his soul, as he struggles to discover why this should be.

Such was his anguish that, instead of showing what is commonly referred to as the “patience of Job,” he cursed the day he was born, and in a rage hurled protests at God. Gripped by a spirit of bitter fatalism, he saw man as being condemned to a daily drudgery, the slave seeking rest in the shade of a palm tree, the paid workman concerned solely with the amount of his wages. Job undergoing this interior struggle really stands for each of us. What is the purpose of my life, I this solitary person who thinks and loves, remembers and hopes, lives and dies? His wife urged Job to curse God, but this he refused. What Job learns in the end is that God is beyond all human scrutiny, understanding or argument, and that never is he under any obligation to human beings however upright their lives may be. Realising that he has no ground for arguing with God, job retracts his harsh words, repents, and humbles himself before his Creator.

The mystery of suffering, however, remains unanswered, even as it is in the Bible as a whole. “Whoever does not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:27). What is certain is that suffering can reduce to despair the person without faith, but for those with faith suffering can be faced in the knowledge that they are in God’s hands, that God works with those who love him, and turns everything to their good (Rom 8:28). In marked contrast to job, St Paul accepts gladly whatever hardship each day may bring, in order to have the opportunity of sharing with others the blessings God has granted him. It is Paul who gives us the only saying of Jesus not recorded in the gospels: “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35).

The gospel reading today shows Christ giving of himself, of his time, his energy, in the mission his Father has entrusted to him. So complete was the cure from fever of Peter’s mother-in-law that she was able to prepare a meal for them. Then after sunset, crowds came with their sick ones to have them also cured. But Jesus flees the crowds, and is found early next morning at prayer by himself elsewhere. This was a clear indication that Jesus regarded the performance of miracles as being a subordinate feature of his ministry. His principal objective was to preach, to pass on a greater understanding of God, and the meaning of life on earth.

To call him the “Holy One of God,” simply on the evidence of his miracles, as ,did those possessed by evil spirits, Jesus regarded as being dangerously misleading, and so the demons were warned to be silent. At the foot of the cross, the centurion was right in confessing Jesus to be the Son of God, because he saw in him, not the miracle-worker, but the crucified One. Miracles of healing were advance signs of the greatest act of healing, that which took place as a result of Christ’s death on Calvary, and his glorious resurrection two days later. The merits that accrue from what took place then continue to be applied to all who have faith in Christ, especially when celebrating the Eucharist.

The Life of Job

All of us from time to time can experience life as something of a struggle or a burden. This might be because of some difficulty in our family, or our work may be unsatisfying or troublesome, or we may be working too hard, or our health may be deteriorating. Any one of these or similar experiences can take its toll on us. We might find ourselves struggling to get through the day; we feel stressed; we overreact to things, getting annoyed at what we would normally take in our stride; we may have little energy for life.

At such times we identify easily with the sentiments of Job in the first reading, his description of life as pressed service and hired drudgery. We may feel the need of a strength beyond ourselves to keep us going, a strength that we do not possess within ourselves. The temptation when life becomes a burden can be to try harder, to summon up more of our energies, to do more to tackle the problem. In reality, the better path might be to do less, to step back and be still, to open ourselves to the presence of the Lord. During the past week I heard someone say that we are human beings not human doings. We often find it easier to do than to be.

The portrayal of Jesus in today’s gospel reading may have something to teach us in this regard. Because people recognised that God’s healing power was at work through Jesus, they came to him in great numbers in their brokenness, and reached out to him for healing. In the gospel reading this morning, they told him about Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Later on that day the whole town came crowding round the door looking for healing. That was only in Capernaum. Jesus could have worked day and night in all the towns of Galilee, healing the broken, releasing people from whatever was enslaving them. Yet, Jesus knew the importance of standing back from what he was doing and being alone with God, even if it meant doing less.

In the gospel reading we find him going off to a lonely place early in the morning to pray. When the disciples realized where he had gone, they were clearly puzzled by this behaviour of Jesus, going off on his own like that. “Everyone in Capernaum is looking for you,” they said, as much as to say, “what are you doing out here on your own when you could be healing more sick people in Capernaum?” But Jesus was not at the mercy of the demands of others. There was an even more important relationship in his life than his relationship with the needy and the sick, and that was his relationship with God, his Father. To do the work of the Father well, he needed to be with the Father.

If Job had put his question to Jesus, “Is not our life on earth nothing more than pressed service?” Jesus would surely have answered “No.” Yes, our life on earth is much about service, serving one another in love. People served Simon’s mother-in-law by bringing Jesus to her. Paul in our second reading declares that he has made himself the slave, the servant of everyone. Tomorrow, parishioners will serve other parishioners by bringing them to the Mass for the sick in this church. There are all kinds of other ways in which parishioners serve one another in our parish. One of the reasons for our parish assembling next Saturday is to celebrate all those many forms of mutual service that have graced our parish since it was established fifty years ago this year.

Yet, even more fundamental than the service we render each other is the service that God renders us. God sent his Son not to be served but to serve and to give his life for us. God was revealed as our Servant in the person of his Son. Jesus went away from the demands of others to open himself to the service of God, to be renewed and strengthened by God’s presence. If Jesus needed to be alone before God and to be served by God’s presence, how much more is that true of ourselves, we who are weak and prone to sin. We need to be before God, to come before him in our poverty and to be renewed by God’s presence.

If we can learn to be with God in stillness, then our doing is more likely to be what God wants. After spending time alone with God, Jesus did not go straight back to Capernaum, as Simon and the others wanted. He went on to other towns, because he knew this was what God wanted. It is not easy to acquire this habit of being alone with God in quietness and stillness, because so much of our culture today tells us that this is a waste of time, that we should be doing this, that or the other. We pray that the example of Jesus in the gospel this morning would inspire us to be with God, regardless of the demands made on us by life.

Friends of suffering Job

The story of Job is a famous one: Job has made it big – happy home, good material resources, and he’s a regular religious practiser. The Lord brags to Satan about him – what a fine and virtuous man Job is- and Satan says that Job’s prayers might lessen if his bank account went down. So the Lord lets Satan at it (reluctantly), and Job doesn’t know what hit him. Friends of his come along, talking religiously, but it doesn’t hit home with Job. He speaks about the misery and emptiness of life.

We’re far removed from Job in time, but not removed in experience. We would have to be hermits to avoid seeing the pain and misery into which human life is plunged. We see the marriages of friends heading for the rocks, neighbours having nervous breakdowns, teenagers at odds with their parents, destruction and violence in our cities. At times it seems that the world in which we live depends on immorality, injustice, exploitation, and hypocrisy for its systems to operate. So many live in fear – fear of going out of their flats, or fear caused by financial trouble, or fear of a neighbour’s tongue; others feel enslaved by drudgery and sameness. And as little meaning as life has, death has less. We can repeat, maybe with less polish, most of the sentiments that Job speaks in the first reading.

What does the Christian have to say to Job? What does Christianity have to say to Job’s sisters and brothers who populate the world? Is there some platitude which will silence their cries? Some theological insight which will take away the pain they find in living?

Maybe in this situation it is not the task of Christians to speak, but to listen. The cry of emptiness, loneliness, despair, and pain may not be the most profound insight into life, but the cry is real, and honest, and strong. In a way, that cry is part of the Christian message; we even find it in the Saviour “5 mouth on Good Friday. That cry today is part of the Word spoken now, and it demands response.

What is the Christian response to a person in pain? To some extent, we can see that response at work in the Gospel passage: the sick are brought to Jesus, and he heals them. He does not enter debates on the meaning of suffering – he stretches out his hand and heals.

Our first reaction is to think that here we cannot be the followers of Christ. But that is only true if we take the action of Christ in a narrow sense. We cannot remove all the loneliness and fear; we cannot make a fever go away with a simple action, as Christ could. But we can respond, and we can help to ease the suffering. We can let Christ himself act in us to fill the loneliness, care for the sick, to be with the fearful and the heartbroken.

Our religion cannot afford to be other-worldly, even though much of our faith and hope will only be fulfilled in the world to come. Our God felt that he could not be other-worldly. He felt the need to experience it all, to walk among broken humanity, to listen, to share the pain. And when he was touched by the things he heard and saw, when he had listened closely to the cries of the sisters and brothers of Job, when he saw the sadness that can be in human life, and saw it through human eyes, then he responded. Then we saw that Jesus, too, had things to share with us – forgiveness, concern, a reason for hope, and a reason for joy. Most of all, when he had shared the most bitter experience of all, weakness, the cross, the tomb – when there was nothing left to share – he showed us that he wants to share a life SO full, so joyful, so filled with meaning, that it might make even Job smile, despite his troubles.

Today the Scripture challenges us to listen and to share. We are to follow Jesus on the path which winds through the hunger, and the loneliness, and the tragedies. We too are to reach out and touch the worried, and the weak, and the bored – to let the Lord touch those situations through our hands and to give his time on our clock.

Then he calls us to himself – after we have listened. And after we have brought to him the cries and the fears and the needs of broken humanity, we must thank him; for he has let us be his eyes, his smile, his ears, and his hands, still mightily at work in the world.

Boredom

The first reading offers an entree to the homily if one wishes to speak on the boredom of life. Job presents a graphic picture of man waiting for something better to turn up. The one who is always waiting for the next night or day has no interest in events as they are. He is self-centred, having his whole reward in his wages. The inner tension of his life is shown when, in contradiction to his impatient waiting, he complains that life is too short. There is little enjoyment for one who is not interested in others. The folk in the Gospel are different. Peter’s companions have a care for the mother-in-law who is burdened with sickness; she has an interest that her benefactor gets a meal; the crowd come to the door to look for this mighty healer and at night find him, whereas in the morning he is out in a lonely place; Jesus himself has time for his Father and for the demanding crowds. We are given meaning and interest in life through our communion with God and with the needy around us.

Or one could take up Jesus’ balance in approach to the people. He is not swept off his feet by their demands on him, although their adulation is flattering. He does not use their enthusiasm to build up his popularity or allow it to divert his attention from his Father. He does not permit the demons to speak out his secret identity and so provoke a wave of messianic ferment which could have won him many followers of a warlike character. Rather he reaches out to his Father in prayer and to others through their deepest needs for teaching and healing. In our own lives there are many attractions that are good and can appear to be so important that all else pales in comparison – even the need to speak to the Father in prayer. Jesus’ example challenges us to keep a balance and to be careful not to lose the one thing necessary among the many necessities of life.

Paul’s letter offers the preacher another possibility. So many people look to God for a reward, by living a Christian life to earn a place in heaven, or in its cruder manifestations by making devotions to earn some favour from the Lord. Paul is so insistent that his arduous missionary life does not justify him looking for a reward. The message of the Gospel of God’s love freely given to all mankind carries its imperative that it be made known far and wide. The real reward is to be a beneficiary of God’s love and to be able to share its joy with others. Paul is the unprofitable servant who has great job satisfaction. One could link his enthusiasm and joy with the boredom of the first reading.

Suffering Job

The story of Job is a like a roller-coaster: Job has made it big – happy home, good material resources, and he’s a regular religious practiser. The Lord brags to Satan about him – what a fine and virtuous man Job is – and Satan says that Job’s prayers might lessen if his bank account went down. So the Lord lets Satan at it (reluctantly), and Job doesn’t know what hit him. Friends of his come along, talking religiously, but it doesn’t hit home with Job. He speaks about the misery and emptiness of life.

We’re far removed from Job in time, but not removed in experience. We would have to be hermits to avoid seeing the pain and misery into which human life is plunged. We see the marriages of friends heading for the rocks, neighbours having nervous breakdowns, teenagers at odds with their parents, destruction and violence in our cities. At times it seems that the world in which we live depends on immorality, injustice, exploitation, and hypocrisy for its systems to operate. So many live in fear – fear of going out of their flats, or fear caused by financial trouble, or fear of a neighbour’s tongue; others feel enslaved by drudgery and sameness. And as little meaning as life has, death has less. We can repeat, maybe with less polish, most of the sentiments that Job speaks in the first reading.

What does the Christian have to say to Job? What does Christianity have to say to Job’s brothers and sisters who populate the world? Is there some platitude which will silence their cries? Some theological insight which will take away the pain they find in living?

Maybe in this situation it is not the task of Christians to speak, but to listen. The cry of emptiness, loneliness, despair, and pain may not be the most profound insight into life, but the cry is real, and honest, and strong. In a way, that cry is part of the Christian message; we even find it in the Saviour “5 mouth on Good Friday. That cry today is part of the Word spoken now, and it demands response.

What is the Christian response to a person in pain? To some extent, we can see that response at work in the Gospel passage: the sick are brought to Jesus, and he heals them. He does not enter debates on the meaning of suffering – he stretches out his hand and heals.

Our first reaction is to think that here we cannot be the followers of Christ. But that is only true if we take the action of Christ in a narrow sense. We cannot remove all the loneliness and fear; we cannot make a fever go away with a simple action, as Christ could. But we can respond, and we can help to ease the suffering. We can let Christ himself act in us to fill the loneliness, care for the sick, to be with the fearful and the heartbroken.

Our religion cannot afford to be other-worldly, even though much of our faith and hope will only be fulfilled in the world to come. Our God felt that he could not be other-worldly. He felt the need to experience it all, to walk among broken humanity, to listen, to share the pain. And when he was touched by the things he heard and saw, when he had listened closely to the cries of the brothers and sisters of Job, when he saw the sadness that can be in human life, and saw it through human eyes, then he responded. Then we saw that Jesus, too, had things to share with us – forgiveness, concern, a reason for hope, and a reason for joy. Most of all, when he had shared the most bitter experience of all, weakness, the cross, the tomb – when there was nothing left to share – he showed us that he wants to share a life SO full, so joyful, so filled with meaning, that it might make even Job smile, despite his troubles.

Today the Scripture challenges us to listen and to share. We are to follow Jesus on the path which winds through the hunger, and the loneliness, and the tragedies. We too are to reach out and touch the worried, and the weak, and the bored – to let the Lord touch those situations through our hands and to give his time on our clock.

Then he calls us to himself – after we have listened. And after we have brought to him the cries and the fears and the needs of broken humanity, we must thank him; for he has let us be his eyes, his smile, his ears, and his hands, still mightily at work in the world.

First Reading: Job 7:1-4, 6-7

“Do not human beings have a hard service on earth, and are not their days like the days of a laborer? Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like laborers who look for their wages, so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I rise?’ But the night is long, and I am full of tossing until dawn. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and come to their end without hope. “Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good.

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16ff

For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more.

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law-though not being myself under the law-that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law – not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ-that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.