FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Job 7:1-4, 6-7 | Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6 | 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 | Mark 1:29-39
What is the value of suffering? On this Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Book of Job assures us that suffering and failure are unavoidable aspects of human existence, not consequences of our actions. The apostle Paul prompts reflection on redemptive suffering, suggesting that when our pains align with Christ's passion, they can bring benefits to both ourselves and others. Ultimately, Mark's gospel emphasizes not letting sickness, needs, sufferings, and failures distract us from receiving Jesus' gift of Himself.
Once I was sitting in a hospital room in Dasmariñas City having a conversation with my friend whose devout mother got brain cancer. She was deeply upset and agitated. She dried her eyes and told me, “I struggle believing this is all part of God’s plan. Why does mom have to suffer? She devoted most of her life serving God and taking care of our family." "Why not?" I replied. "Individuals such as her are the only ones capable of enduring challenges as they perceive God's beautiful plan in every aspect of life." The real question is not "Where does suffering come from?" but "What shall I do with suffering"?
Today’s first reading comes from the early part of the poetic dialogue. Job has just responded to the attacks of his friends and then trails off into a monologue on the miseries of human life. He was a just man, who without any fault of his own is tried by innumerable sufferings — He loses his possessions, his children, and finally, he himself is afflicted by a grave sickness. Pain becomes the constant companion to many of us. Any of us who have endured loss or grown old or know sickness and pain can add our voices to the truth of what Job says. We get older and know that there are more days behind us than before us. We appreciate that our bodies fail us and there are some ailments from which we will not recover. Surprisingly, the Book of Job is not a testament to despair, but rather is a witness of faith against the harsh truth of existence in this mortal world. I am reminded of St. Teresa of Calcutta and her appraisal as a Catholic Christian of human misery: "Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you." Suffering can no longer be interpreted as it was in Deuteronomy, namely, as a direct punishment for sin, for Job has been righteous and has maintained his integrity. What Job has to learn in the end is that a person’s righteousness gives him or her no claim upon God. Suffering does not make exceptions for nice people. A bullet has no conscience; neither does a malignant tumor ; or a car gone out of control. Good people get sick and get hurt as much as anyone. Job’s reflections on the miseries of human life are meant to provide a background for the healing work of Christ, of which our Gospel reading for today speaks. It is from such miseries as Job speaks of that Christ comes to save us. The book closes with a prose epilogue in which the fortunes of Job are restored to him.
Three pastors were talking about how they get paid. One said, "I draw a circle on the floor. Then I throw the offering money up in the air. And whatever is inside the circle I keep, and whatever is outside is God's." "I draw a circle on the floor too," said the second. "Then I throw the offering money up in the air. And whatever is outside the circle I keep, and whatever is inside is God's." The third pastor said, "I draw a circle on the floor too. Then I throw the offering money up in the air, to the heavens. And whatever He wants He keeps"!
In our second reading, Paul faces criticism for refusing payment from converts, as false teachers try to exploit the Corinthian congregation. Accused of lacking confidence in his apostolic authority, Paul clarifies that his approach aims at connecting with the weak to ultimately save some. He wants to avoid being perceived as just another wandering preacher, emphasizing his selflessness and embracing suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Paul highlights the Christian perspective on suffering, associating it with Christ's Paschal Mystery. The idea is to unite our struggles and hardships with the crucified Savior, transforming them into redemptive acts for God's glory, a concept emphasized in our Catholic Faith. Today, countless false prophets are too willing to misguide the gullible faithful by preaching a gospel of prosperity that posits the enjoyment of material benefits while viewing poverty or hardships as a curse and lack of blessing from God. If our faith in God depends on over abundance of customers, job promotion or gains, we are most likely to get discouraged and turn our back on God when we experience loss, pain, and suffering. If riches were a reasonable goal for the godly, Jesus would have pursued it. He could have asked his followers to do positive confession to the unbounded, limitless, overflowing abundance of God’s solar system, galaxies, and universe (name-it-and-claim-it). Jesus simply did not, preferring instead to be dependent on God and teaching his followers to do the same. Jesus did not promise the pain and failure to go away when you believe in Him, but surely the suffering will be cut into half because He is always there to carry our crosses with us. Come to think of it, it was only Judas who was concerned with wealth among the disciples! St. Rose of Lima hit the nail on the head when she said, "Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven." Christ is not truly Christ without a cross, and Christians cannot be considered genuine Christians if they do not embrace the cross.
A priest was in Bacolod, several years ago, and noticed in the restaurants section of the Yellow Pages, an entry for a place called Share Gods Love Chicken Inasal. The strange name aroused his curiosity and he dialed the number. A man answered with a cheery, “Hello! Share Gods Love Chicken Inasal!" The priest asked how that restaurant had been given such an unusual name, and the man said: “Well, we had a little mission down here, and we started selling grilled chicken dishes after church on Sunday to help pay the bills. Well, people liked the chicken, and we did such a good business, that eventually we cut back on the church service. After a while we just closed down the church altogether and kept on serving this delicious Ilonggo favorite. We kept the name we started with, and that’s Share Gods Love Chicken Inasal.”
Mark opens his account of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee with a day of healing in Capernaum. After the first miracle of freeing the demoniac of an unclean spirit, which we read last week, comes the healing of Peter's mother-in-law. Later, we are told that the whole town was gathered around the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons. It was probably close to midnight by the time he finished. He arose the next morning, very early before dawn, and went to a deserted place to pray. Mark tells us that Peter and his companions searched for Jesus, and when they found him said, "Everyone is looking for you." We might have expected that Jesus’ response would have been one of a feeling of great happiness and triumph. But Jesus, when told that everyone was looking for him, didn’t respond by saying, "Hallelujah" He didn’t rejoice like vloggers seeing their followers, likes, and views turn into cash. He didn’t rejoice like bad politicians getting bad laws passed. Rather He said, much to their surprise, "Let us go on to the nearby villages, so that I may preach there also; for this purpose I have come." Jesus had come to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. People were coming to Him not so much to receive what He wanted to give them, but to obtain from Him what they themselves wanted. The crowds looked at him as a miracle-worker. But Jesus had a different set of priorities than the crowds. He wanted them to accept Him on his own terms, not theirs. He wanted them to come to Him not principally as the doctor of their mortal bodies, but as the Savior of their immortal souls. So we need to ask, first: Why have we come to Holy Mass today? Jesus knows that we come here with our illnesses, needs, and problems. He can cure us and He wants us to ask Him with confidence to do so. But He doesn’t want these difficulties to distract us from an even more important gift He wants to give us today: Himself. Like Jesus, don't forget your purpose and your priorities. It is not just that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law or the crowd of patients at sundown; it is that by his crucifixion and death, in whose benefits we partake at every Eucharist, He continues to heal us of our affliction of sin.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum