Saturday, February 7, 2015

Jesus, healer of our souls

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

In our first reading for this Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Job expresses several things that make him our contemporary. Job is surely brokenhearted. He is brokenhearted as the result of what happened to him- his ten children all died, he lost all of his wealth, and was afflicted from head to foot with sores. The way I see it, Job is not so much complaining here, but is simply describing his life as he sees it from the point-of-view of someone, formerly prosperous, who is now mired in great suffering.

While his physical affliction surely plays a part, this does not seem to be what Job is most concerned about in this passage. He seems to be losing hope. Loss of hope is called despair. We know, from having read the Book of Job in its entirety, that Job never gives in completely to despair (though he is, understandably, tempted to do so). He continues to trust in God. Rather than meaning "to wish," the theological virtue of hope, which is the flower of faith, means "to trust," specifically, to trust in God. Such trust is particularly crucial when we do not see how, or maybe even doubt that God is able, to bring us safely through our suffering, pain, loss, and most especially, our grappling with death.

From a Christian theological perspective, death is not a natural part of life. On the contrary, it is a horrendous disjunction. We will all die, each and every one of us, no doubt about it. Does this cause you to despair, or to trust, or merely to wish- seeing the promise of eternal life as nice, but unlikely?

As our Psalm response bids us, we "Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted." What is the remedy for that which ails us, namely death? For our answer we turn to what St Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul, like anyone who is called to preach the Gospel, is eager to be a messenger of hope to those in despair, which is why, "To the weak [he] became weak, to win over the weak." He endeavored to "become all things to all, to save at least some." To those of us who have hope, which, like faith, is a theological virtue, meaning it is a gift from God, not something we deserve or earn, we, like Paul, feel the urgency to share the Gospel with people who live in an often despair-inducing world. Sharing the Gospel, being evangelizers, is where Jesus' two great commandments, to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, most profoundly come together.

Peter's mother-in-law, whose name we never learn, is a perfect example of what I tried to describe above. Jesus heals her, cures her of whatever caused her to lay in bed sick with a fever. Once healed, she served. Selflessly serving others is the best way to evangelize. We're all familiar with the over-used quip, attributed to St Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel, if necessary use words." We need to be careful, however, not to use to this saying as an excuse to avoid telling others about Jesus, about the Good News, Who alone gives true hope. After all, St Francis himself preached, which is the only reason he was likely ordained a deacon.

The beginning of our Gospel today is a simpler and far more condensed version of what happened to St Paul. If we have received the healing Jesus offers us time and again, especially in and through the Eucharist, then our lives should bear some resemblance to this pattern.

The ultimate healing is yet to come- resurrection unto life eternal. Whether this is your hope, or merely a wish you do not really put much stock in, is born out by how you live.

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