Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Year B 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Job 7,1-4.6-7; Ps 147,1-6; 1 Cor 9,16-19.22-23; Mk 1,29-39

Today’s readings give us snapshots from life’s photo album. In these readings we see three related dimensions of human existence: the harshness of life, Jesus relieving us of life’s harshness, and the disciple sharing the Good News of Jesus’ healing and salvation.

In today’s first reading from the Book of Job, we take a cold, hard look at human life, at the problem of suffering, at life’s harshness, and its brevity. Because it was written before the advent of Jesus Christ, Job’s story is not the final word on suffering and is, therefore, incomplete in its conclusions. However, this ancient story resonates down through the ages to our own time. It finds resonance with us because we have experienced disappointment and suffering at different times in our lives. For too many people sorrow to constitutes the whole of life. When people suffer in the manner described by Job, our life becomes drudgery (Jb 7,1), happy memories tend to get swallowed up and any hope of a brighter future grows dim. At such times there is a temptation to despair, to no longer view suffering as an ordeal that will pass. Rather, suffering appears to be one’s permanent fate. Such a view of life, along with life’s shortness, is expressed in such contemporary sayings as "Life is hard and then you die."

Jesus knows the harshness of human life because he is one of us. As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes, "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin" (Heb 4,15). Furthermore, because Jesus loves each one of us, he sees our hurt and is touched by our suffering. This week’s Gospel picks up right where last week’s Gospel, in which we read about Jesus healing the man with an unclean spirit not only on the Sabbath, but in the synagogue, leaves off. Our Gospel today follows Jesus from the synagogue to "the house of Simon and Andrew" (Mk 1,29). Once in the house Jesus continues his ministry of healing by healing Simon’s mother-in-law who "lay sick with a fever" (Mk 1,30-31). In Mark’s account of this particular healing he uses two words that merit closer attention. The first is the Greek word egeiro and the second is the Greek word diakoneo, from which we derive the word deacon.

Egeiro means "to raise up" (Mk 1,31). What is significant about the appearance of the word in this context is that it is typically used to refer to Christ’s resurrection. Therefore, it is indicative of Jesus raising her- and us- from the sickness and death, about which Job laments, to new life. Diakoneo, or service, is what Simon’s mother-in-law does in response to being healed by Jesus. We read, "Then the fever left her and she waited on them" (Mk 1,31). The word "waited" is the English translation of diakoneo, which denotes much more than traditional women’s domestic work. It connotes ministry or service within the community. So, this nameless woman provides for us a model response to our encounter with Jesus Christ.

After sundown, which brings the end of the Sabbath, "all who were ill or possessed by demons" were brought to him. In fact, "the whole town was gathered at the door." Jesus "cured many who were sick . . . and drove out many demons" ((Mk 1,34). He then went from Capernaum to "the nearby villages" to preach. He went into their synagogues throughout the whole of Galilee, preaching and driving out demons ((Mk 1,38-39). In all of this Jesus establishes his authority over the forces of evil and death. We learn that the appropriate response for one delivered by Jesus’ saving power is ministry to others.

Job, like all of us at times- is overcome by the evil he encounters. In our modern technological age we daily encounter the evil that happens everywhere in our world. The evening news often seems like the bad news. But the Good News of today’s Gospel is that Jesus is not so overcome. On the contrary, through his life, death, and resurrection, he has overcome the world (Jn 16,33). His healing frees us from diseases of both body and spirit. Of course, we know that Jesus did not come only for the people of his own time. He is present to people of all times and of every place. His healing power is present for us in the Church until the end of time. He is present most concretely in the sacraments. Too often our initial reaction to encountering serious evil is to think that here we cannot be the followers of Christ. However, it is precisely where we encounter evil that we must follow Christ most closely. We alone cannot remove all the loneliness and fear; we cannot make a fever go away with a simple action, as Christ could. Yet, like St. Paul, by virtue of our decision to follow Christ, a commitment we make at baptism and for which we are strengthened in confirmation, we have made our choice. By choosing to follow Christ, we willing accept the responsibility of sharing the good news with others. All who choose to follow Jesus say with Paul "an obligation has been imposed on me" (1 Cor 9,16).

In today’s Psalm response we "Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted" (Ps 147,3). May we who’s hearts have been mended by the gentle, healing touch of the Savior bring our new life to others daily in all our encounters be it in our homes, at work, at school, or right here in our parish. We receive new life from Christ continually, especially in and the through the eucharist. Christ meets us in all the sacraments. When we are overtaken by evil and fall into sin, rejecting the wholeness and life offered us by our Lord, we are reconciled in confession. When we are physically ill we have recourse to the sacrament of anointing.

Faith is our loving response to God’s loving and unceasing reaching-out to us. The Holy Father in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, sums up our Christian vocation, modeled for us so well in today’s readings. Pope Benedict writes that those of us who have come to faith in Christ "have come to believe in God’s love." "Being Christian," he writes, "is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." Since it is God who first loved us, "love is now no longer a mere 'command'; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us" (DCE, 1). By giving this same gift in all of our relationships, we bring God to others. May we do this, like St. Paul, "all for the sake of the gospel" (1 Cor 9,23).

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