Reflections on the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Job 7:1-4, 6-7, 1 Corinthians 9:26-19, 22-23, Mark 1:29-39
There is a story about a man, lets call him Bill, who prayed to God constantly that he could win the lottery. One day God spoke to him and said “Bill if you want to win the lottery you have to buy a ticket.”
Our readings today cover several interrelated issues. First Job relates to us that suffering is part of our human dimension. In the Gospel we read how Jesus relieved the suffering of Simon’s mother-in-law and others. And in the second reading how Paul, an example of a true disciple preached Jesus’ message of salvation to the rich and to the poor. I will take a closer look at these issues and see how they apply to us.
Today we are in a once in a century pandemic where there is much suffering for the families that have lost a loved one to the virus, for those who contract the virus and for those who are taking steps to avoid catching the virus. There are also the people who have lost their jobs, have been evicted or may be evicted from their homes. In the midst of the pandemic we became painfully aware of the racial issues that plague our nation. In the last month we experienced a near insurrection and some said they were acting in the name of Jesus. The list goes on, it is safe to say we are experiencing a very high level of stress and suffering in our communities and in the country.
In the first reading Job found himself in a similar situation. He was afflicted with a series of tragedies. Although not in today’s readings we know that all his children were killed and all his livestock stolen. Then he was afflicted with a number of illnesses that incapacitate him. Three “friends” came to sit with him, at first to commiserate with him but then to find out what had caused all his suffering. They believed that he had done something bad that had displeased God. Their philosophy is rooted in the concept of retributive justice, that is if you do bad you get bad, if you do good you get good. But Job counters that he had not done bad. That he had never cursed God and had never done anything that would offend God. Why was God punishing him? This was also the issue that Rabbi Harold Kushner took up in his book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Kushner lost a son to a little known disease which caused him to age rapidly and he died of old age when he was only a teen. Neither Kushner nor the book of Job answers the question why, but we do learn that God loves us if when bad things happen to us. God is in charge, God has a plan we just don’t know what it is. In the end Job was saved by his faith as God restored his family and fortune.
In his first noble truth the Buddha states that there is suffering. Mary Ann Fatula, OP describes suffering as “…the disruption of inner human harmony caused by physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional forces experienced as isolating and threatening our very existence.” Today we see much suffering in family abuse, bullying, verbal marginalization, racism and the disruption in our lives and economy caused by this pandemic. In these we clearly see the disruption of inner harmony which often leads to depression and suicide.
Because God became one of us through His son Jesus, He knows our suffering. God loves us so much He sent His son to release people from their demons and bring healing to those who are ill. Jesus plunged himself into the depths of human suffering. Through the life of Jesus God has shown us His unconditional love and self-giving. God doesn’t want us to suffer. Jesus came to create the Kingdom of God. To create that He needs to expel all that is bad and evil in the world.
As followers of Jesus we are called to learn about and understand human suffering and not to be indifferent to it, especially the causes of personal and social sin. Through the documents of Vatican II the church has encouraged us to focus our attention on the meaninglessness of human suffering. Christians are called to alleviate suffering especially from unjust social and political structures, and eradicate the causes of inequality, racism, family abuse and the many evils that plague our world today.
Our christian understanding of human suffering is aided also by our awareness to the inseparable interplay between spirit and body, between spiritual, mental and emotional deprivation, and bodily illness. In His preachings Jesus taught the interaction of these through His healings and also His prayer life. In today’s Gospel we see Jesus bringing His healing power to Simon’s mother-in-law. When she got up she served those in her household but in a deeper reading of her actions she ministered to them. She had felt the healing power of Jesus and she then shared the knowledge of that power with others.
Later in the day many people came to Simon’s house with their sick and those possessed by demons and Jesus healed the sick and expelled demons. The next morning He needed to unite Himself with His Father through prayer. Today we are rediscovering the healing power of spirituality and the restorative power of the sacraments and prayer. Help can also be found through medical and psychological counseling to lessen the weight of suffering.
As Jesus spread the good news in His time His disciples were called to continue His teaching. In the second reading we reflect on St. Paul’s struggles to share the good news with the people of Corinth. Like Jesus he identified with the slaves, the weak, the brokenhearted, that is all those who knew the harshness of life. The message that Paul preached was associated with the realities of life.
Now it is our turn. We are the disciples who must bring the good news to the broken-hearted, to those in prison, to those who suffer from prejudice and discrimination, to those who are weak. We must become the voice of Jesus proclaiming the good news through word and action. We are the ones who must share the blessings of this good news.
As I look at how we must respond to the pandemic I see a parallel to how we must respond to Jesus’ call to action. Reflecting on Bill who must buy a ticket if he wants to win the lottery, if we want to be safe from the virus we must wear masks, wash our hands, stay six feet away from others and to get the vaccine. If we want to experience the Kingdom of God our faith calls us to be to commit ourselves to doing the work of God in our communities.
This is summed up in prayer attributed to St. Teresa of Ávila:
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours.