04Feb 04 February. Fifth Sunday (Ord. Time)

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

Job wrestles with the problem of innocent suffering

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.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 147)

R./ Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted

Praise the Lord, for he is good;
sing praise to our God, for he is gracious;
His praise is fitting for loyal hearts.
The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem;
the dispersed of Israel he will gather. R./

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars;
he calls each by name. R./

Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
to his wisdom there is no limit.
The Lord sustains the lowly;
the wicked he casts to the ground. R./

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16ff

Paul become a servant to all, to bring them to salvation

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

Jesus goes off to pray, before starting a new phase of his mission

Jesus and his friends left the synagogue and 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.

Bible

Miracles in Mark

The miracles in Mark are intended to be read at two levels. At level one, Mark offers a narrative from the ministry of Jesus or from the church tradition. At level two, Mark wants us to read the Gospel story as a contemporary call to faith and service (diakonia), always in the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

For today’s Gospel, it is good to enter into the story at a quite personal level. Which of us is not in need of some kind of healing? The healing touch of Jesus reaches out to all in need: the physically ill, the mentally disturbed, the addicts, the bereaved, the lonely, the distraught, the stressed, the sinners. The risen Lord desires our well-being, that we might be fully alive and know life in abundance. (Kieran O’Mahony).


Sickness , isolation and outreach

(Padraig McCarthy)

From a medical point of view, sickness is a condition to be remedied.  From the perspective of human living, it has another dimension: it cuts us off from our normal living and contacts with people – it isolates us at home or in hospital. When recovering we are tempted to resume normal activities even before fully recovered. The social implications of sickness are significant. This is why we go to visit the sick, even though often we can do little to remedy the cause of the sickness. (Except, perhaps, falling into the temptation of recommending our own pet remedies or courses of action!). Job was not just smitten by terrible illness; he becomes isolated. In the time of Jesus, this isolation from community was also a significant factor. In particular cases people were “untouchable” lest we become unclean; or even had to warn people of their approach as unclean. Jesus enabled the sick person to resume place in community.

Simon’s mother-in-law had a fever. At the time, without our modern medicines, this could be terrifying, especially when the sick person became delirious, acting and speaking irrationally. The only way people had to speak of it was as if a strange (demonic) personality had taken over. In Luke’s version of the story of Simon’s mother-in-law, he says that Jesus “rebuked” the fever, as if speaking to an entity which could understand speech (Luke 4:38-39).

It is significant that Jesus restores her to her place in the community. Some are critical of this: back to her function as the servant of everyone! Mary McGlone (NCR online) points out that the verb Mark uses for “serving” is “diakoneo”. She says “That word hints that Mark may have used this story to introduce us to the first Christian deacon.” Mark uses this verb again referring to himself  10:45: “The son of man came not be served but to serve.” And again for the women who stood by the cross (15:41): they had “followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him.”

This transforms Job’s experience of life as “pressed service” to being the way to be a follower of Jesus, to being an incarnation of God’s love in the world. Paul too sees his service in similar light.

 


Lessons from Job and Jesus

The story of Job is a like a roller-coaster: His life is a big success. He is a prosperous landowner, blessed with a happy home; and he’s a happily faithful to his religious duties. The Lord even boasts about him to Satan, about what a virtuous man Job is; but Satan retorts that Job’s prayer would stop if his prosperity suddenly failed. So the Lord reluctantly lets Satan do his worst, and then poor Job laments about the misery and emptiness of life. When some of Job’s friends come along with words of religious comfort, it doesn’t seem to help him one bit.

We’re far removed from Job in time, but maybe not so far from his experience. The human condition can still suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Through Hamlet, Shakespeare lists various things that can make life miserable. “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, The insolence of office and the scorn that patient merit of the unworthy takes?” Only a total hermit could avoid seeing the pain and misery around us. We hear of marriages heading for the rocks, people with nervous breakdowns, teenagers at odds with their parents, the threat of vandalism and violence in our cities. At times it seems that the world in which we live is full of immorality, injustice, exploitation, and hypocrisy for its systems to operate. It leads some clever people like Stephen Fry to call God a sadist. We can identify with many of the sentiments that Job speaks in today’s reading.

What might a Christian have to say to Job, or to people who reject the idea of a good and wise God? What can we say to the many like Job who suffer in our time? There is no easy answer to take away their pain. Maybe in dire situations it is not our task to speak at all, but to listen. Job’s cry of loneliness, grief and despair may not be the most profound insight into life, but his feeling is honest and strong. The cry of distress is a cry that demands some response. We see how Jesus responds when sick people came to him and he healed them. He does not debate the meaning of suffering, but simply stretches out his hand and heals. Naturally we think that we cannot be imitators of Christ in that way, but only if we regard the miracles of Jesus in a narrow sense. Of course we cannot make illness go away with a simple blessing or a touch of the hand, as He could. But we can respond, and we can help to ease the suffering. We can let Christ himself act through us to ease the loneliness, care for people in need, and comfort those who are anxious or heartbroken.

Today’s Scripture challenges us to listen and to share. We are to follow Jesus not only in our happy times but also in times of loneliness, and even of tragedy. Like him we seek ways to reach out with love toward people who are worried, sick or depressed — to let the Lord use us to bless those situations somehow. Then when he calls us to himself — he will have let us be his eyes, his smile, his ears, and his hands, quietly at work in the world.


Paul’s Calling and Our Own

St Paul had a keen sense of his calling and this becomes clear in this reading from his letter to the Corinthians. He had been very successful in Corinth and established a strong church there. But after he left, he received news that there were problems and he tried to address them by letter. One of the problems was that there were a few people who, for their own reasons, didn’t like Paul and tried to discredit him. They fell into the trap we call ad hominem argumentation. It means to argue against the person instead of the ideas of the person. We do it ourselves if we are not careful. For instance, you disagree with someone about something but you cannot refute their arguments so finally you blurt out, “That’s just not true, after all, just look, you have no teeth.” The fact that they have teeth or not has nothing to do with the argument, unless it is about chewing.

Well, the argument they used against Paul was that he was really not an apostle. The proof was that he did not exercise the rights of an apostle. Apostles were given support by the Christian church but Paul would not accept any. He was a tent maker by trade and so he did odd jobs to support himself while spreading Christianity. His accusers said, see, he doesn’t even think he is an apostle. But Paul has a different approach. “What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel..” What a wonderful approach. Compare that to the situations we have seen when people insist on their rights. They shout, ‘I have a right to?whatever.’ When you compare that to St Paul, it all sounds so shallow, thin, rather irritating. They are usually demanding things on a technicality. They certainly are not concerned that with every right there comes an obligation.

A wonderful aspect of Paul’s approach is that there are many things we can give away and still never lose anything: a cheerful word, a helping hand, a hug. These are also examples of good news. After all, a major part of Christ’s good news was that we must love our neighbour. That means that any act of love we show them, represents the good news. If we make someone happy, we do not become sad. If we help someone understand something, we do not lose our understanding. In fact we will probably understand it better for having explained it again. The fact is that the only thing we lose in giving the good news free is time. But time is like the grains of sand in an hour glass – the important part is in the middle where it is constantly moving. The rest of the glass is a deception because we cannot collect time as in the bottom of the glass. Once time passes, it can never be retrieved. And the amount of time left for us is out of sight in real life, unlike the top of the hour glass.

The only usable time is now. We can regard time as opportunities so when we give someone our time, we still lose nothing for there was nothing to collect or save. Jesus said, love God and neighbour. We do that by taking opportunities, by giving them our time. Time is free. It is not ours to dole out at a price. It would be like trying to charge someone for daylight. It is not of our making.

Finally, the time we spend with others should be refreshing. It should be like a jug of cool, clear water. It should cleans wounds, cool the body in the heat of the day, satisfy parched lips, quench thirst. We said in the responsorial Psalm for this Mass, “God heals the broken-hearted.” How does he do that in practice? Through us! We can and must be refreshing water on the dryness that comes to others during the day. Most often, no planning or rehearsing is needed. Opportunities keep coming like the sand in an hour glass. What we need is a proper disposition. We need to be able to say, like Paul, with complete conviction, ‘My reward is to bring the good news, free.’ And then add, for the Lord does heal the broken-hearted …. through me. (WJH)

 

Signs of Healing

There is some debate about whether the people Jesus healed were demon-possessed or just mentally disturbed. That debate misses the main point, that these individuals were deeply troubled and Jesus healed them. His intent was  to heal people both in body and soul. Most scripture scholars now agree that miracles were an important part of Our Lord’s ministry and of the memory of that ministry in the early church. We simply cannot abandon them to placate the sceptics 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.

A group of doctors were discussing whether prayer helped their patients. “Does it do any good,” one asked, “for people to pray for those who are sick?” Another 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.” A few had the impression that prayer really had a positive effect on sick people. The others said it was 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 but a list of first-names were given to those who were to do the praying. Neither the “pray-ers” nor the “pray-ees” nor the researchers knew who had been chosen to be prayed for. Apparently, those for whom prayers were said recovered more quickly. But it’s an argument that still goes on.


Faith and the Cross

The Belfast-born writer C.S. Lewis set out to give a rational explanation for the Christian vision of life. In 1940 he wrote on The Problem of Pain which revolved around the problem of suffering. Twenty one years, in 1961, he wrote a very different book, called, A Grief Observed detailing the reflections of a man whose beloved wife has died, slowly and painfully, from cancer. The book vividly describes his own reactions, as a man of faith, to his wife’s death. His rational faith fell to pieces when confronted with suffering of a devastatingly personal kind. He writes at one point, ‘Where is God? Go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.’ The name of the wife was Joy. Lewis had earlier written a book called Surprised by Joy, about the impact that meeting her had on his life. A Grief Observed was widely admired for its authentic account of the impact of bereavement. Even though his rational, cerebral faith took something of a battering because of Joy’s death, Lewis did not lose his faith. Through the darkness of this experience he even claims to have come to love his wife more truly. God had helped him realise that because the love he and his wife had for each other had reached its earthly limit, it was ready for its heavenly fulfilment.

Faith has to come to terms with the cross and it is at the foot of the cross that faith is purified and deepened. Jesus entered fully into the darkness of human suffering. In today’s second reading, Paul says of himself, ‘For the weak, I made myself weak.’ That is certainly true of Jesus. He entered into the weakness of the human condition. Elsewhere Paul says that ‘though he was rich, for your sakes Christ became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.’ On the cross Jesus was at his weakest and poorest; it was then that, in the words of C.S. Lewis, Jesus turned to God and found a door slammed in his face, as he cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Yet God did not forsake Jesus, but brought through death into the fullness of life. The Jesus who was crucified in weakness is the same risen Lord who is with us in our own suffering moments, just as he was with the suffering and the broken in this morning’s gospel. He is with us as one who knows our experience from the inside. Having gone down into the depths and having moved through those depths into a fuller life, he can enable us to do the same. He is the good shepherd who, even as we walk through the valley of darkness, is there with his crook and his staff, leading us to springs of living water.


The door to our house

(José Antonio Pagola)

In the synagogue of Capernaum, Jesus has that morning freed a man possessed by an evil spirit. Now it’s said that he leaves the synagogue and heads to the house of Simon and Andrew. The reference is important since in Mark’s Gospel what happens in that house has always contained some teaching for our Christian communities.

Jesus passes from the synagogue, the official assembly-place of the Jewish religion, to the house, the place where daily life is lived out among the ones we love most. In that house Jesus’ new family is being born. In the Christian communities we need to know that it’s not in the religious places where the Law is being lived out, but in the home, where we learn to live in a new way what Jesus is all about.

Entering the house, the disciples mention the illness of Simon’s mother-in-law, who is prostrate in bed with a fever. Jesus doesn’t need to hear anything more. Once again he goes about breaking the Sabbath for the second time that very day. For him, what’s important is the healthy life of people, not religious observances. The story carefully describes Jesus’ actions with the sick woman.

He comes close to her. It’s the first thing He does for people who suffer, look into their face and share their suffering. Next, he takes her by the hand. It was his practice to touch the sick person, ignoring any purity rules that would forbid it, for he wants the woman to feel his healing power. Lastly he raises her up, sets puts her on her feet, thereby restoring her active dignity.

That’s always how Jesus is in the midst of his own: like a hand reaching out to raise us up, like a close friend who infuses us with life. Jesus shows us how to serve, not to be served. That’s why the woman whom he healed goes about serving everyone. She’s learned it from Jesus. We his followers need to go about welcoming and taking care of each other.

But it would be wrong to imagine the Christian community as a family that thinks only about its own members and lives with our backs turned to the suffering of outsiders. The story goes on to say that that very day, when the sun went down, when the Sabbath was over, they bring all kinds of sick people to Jesus, and those possessed by any evil.

Jesus’ followers need to etch this scene on their hearts. When it got dark, the whole population, along with all the sick, crowded around the door. The eyes and the hopes of those who suffer seek the door of that house where Jesus is. The Church only truly attracts when the people who suffer can discover within her the Jesus who heals life and alleviates suffering. At the doors of our communities are many who suffer. Let’s not forget it.


Ceachtanna as Job agus Íosa

Cad é an bhaint a d’fhéadfadh a bheith ag Críostaí le Job, nó le dhaoine a bhfuil an saol chomh crua acu go bhfuil siad in amhras nó ag dhiúltú to bhfuil aon Dia ann, atá maith agus ciallmhar? Cad is féidir linn a rá leis an iliomad mar Job atá ag fulaingt anois díreach?

Níl aon fhreagra éasca chun leigheas a chur ar a gcuid pian. B’fhéidir gurb é níos fearr linn gan labhairt ar chor ar bith, ach éisteacht a dhéanamh leo le suim agus le grá. Bfhéidir nach iad an t-uaigneas, an bhriseadh chroí agus an éadóchas an léargas is cuimsithí ar an saol, ach tá a mothú macánta agus láidir. Is é caoin anacair a éilíonn freagra de shórt éigin.

Címíd conas a fhreagraíonn Íosa nuair a tháinig daoine breoite tar timpeall air agus shéalaigh sé iad. Níor dhéan sé dhíospóireacht faoi’n bhrí atá sa bhfulaingt, ach síneann sé amach a lámh go trócaireach agus breathnaíonn sé orthu go grámhar, chun iad a leigheas.

Ar ndóigh, ní féidir linne aithris a dhéanamh ar íosa Chríost san slí sin, má mheasann muid míorúiltí Íosa go litriúil. Ní féidir linn tinneas a leigheas le beannacht shimplí, nó le teagmháil na láimhe.

Ach is féidir linn focal misnigh agus tuiscint a rá, chun cabhrú leis an bhfulaingt a mhaolú. Is féidir ligean do Chríost féin bheith gníomhach trínár chroí chun an t-uaigneas a mhaolú, aire a thabhairt do dhaoine a bhfuil gá leo, agus chompord dóibh siúd atá imníoch nó croíbhriste.

Go dtuga Dia linn uile an grásta agus an grá chun é sin a dhéanadh.

 

 

 

 

One Response

  1. Pádraig McCarthy

    Sickness from a medical point of view is a condition to be remedied.
    From the perspective of human living, it has another dimension: it cuts us off from our normal living and contacts with people – it isolates us at home or in hospital. When recovering we are tempted to resume normal activities even before fully recovered. The social implications of sickness are significant. This is why we go to visit the sick, even though often we can do little to remedy the cause of the sickness. (Except, perhaps, falling into the temptation of recommending our own pet remedies or courses of action!). Job was not just smitten by terrible illness; he becomes isolated. In the time of Jesus, this isolation from community was also a significant factor. In particular cases people were “untouchable” lest we become unclean; or even had to warn people of their approach as unclean. Jesus enabled the sick person to resume place in community.

    Simon’s mother-in-law had a fever. At the time, without our modern medicines, this could be terrifying, especially when the sick person became delirious, acting and speaking irrationally. The only way people had to speak of it was as if a strange (demonic) personality had taken over. In Luke’s version of the story of Simon’s mother-in-law, he says that Jesus “rebuked” the fever, as if speaking to an entity which could understand speech (Luke 4:38-39).

    It is significant that Jesus restores her to her place in the community. Some are critical of this: back to her function as the servant of everyone! Mary McGlone (NCR online) points out that the verb Mark uses for “serving” is “diakoneo”. She says “That word hints that Mark may have used this story to introduce us to the first Christian deacon.” Mark uses this verb again referring to himself 10:45: “The son of man came not be served but to serve.” And again for the women who stood by the cross (15:41): they had “followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him.”

    This transforms Job’s experience of life as “pressed service” to being the way to be a follower of Jesus, to being an incarnation of God’s love in the world. Paul too sees his service in similar light.


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