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
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 wonderful plan. Why does mom have to suffer? She devoted most of her life serving God." "Why not?" I replied. "People like her are the only ones who can take it." 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 do not make exceptions for nice people. A bullet has no conscience; neither does a malignant tumor or Coronavirus disease; 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, the apostle Paul has been criticized for not letting his converts pay him for his preaching. False teachers turned up at Corinth, sponged on the congregation, and nearly won over their allegiance. His opponents accuse him of lack of confidence in his authority as an apostle. He tells the Corinthians, “To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” Paul does not want the Corinthians to take him for a wandering preacher like his opponents, for then the Corinthians would misunderstand his Gospel. He is literally saying that he is making himself a slave for others. He is fulfilling the summons of Christ to take
up the cross in following Him. By doing this, he embraces for the kingdom that which is traditionally regarded as punishment or curse. The Christian meaning of suffering would forever be associated with the Paschal Mystery of Christ. If we die with Christ then we can live with him. We offer ourselves as grafted to the crucified Savior. We take all the struggle, sickness, pain, loss, and hurt we experience and make them redemptive in the Lord. Our Catholic Faith emphasizes that even the dark things of life can come to God’s glory.
Why have we come to Holy Mass today? Do you sometimes feel you have forgotten your purpose and your priorities? 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 dish 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 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. <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum