Sunday, February 4, 2018

I will rise when Christ heals me

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

Weeks during which I take my spiritual discipline seriously, I practice lectio divina with the readings for the coming Sunday. I find this beneficial both personally and as a preacher. This past week I managed to do this. Of course, at the center of the Bible and of each Sunday's readings one finds the Gospels. In our Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus is clearly presented as a healer of body and soul. It seems to me that Christians in who live in advanced societies are somewhat uncomfortable with Jesus being portrayed as such, at least as strongly as the Gospel of Mark portrays it.

Our first reading, which marks a rare occasion on which we read from the Book of Job in the three-year Sunday lectionary cycle, occurs after Job has been afflicted and has been upbraided by his friend Eliphaz, who wants to know what Job has done to earn God's wrath. Of course, Job, who is a just man, has done nothing to deserve what happened to him. In a very human, which is not to say sinful or disgraceful, manner Job rues his life. It's interesting that the lectionary reading is Job 7:1-4 and, skipping verse 5, 6-7. Once this gap is noticed, the question it prompts is almost inevitable. What does verse 5 say? It says: "My flesh is clothed with worms and scabs my skin cracks and festers." Apparently, this is too grotesque to proclaim in the liturgy. As a result of the state in which he finds himself, Job looks forward to death with no hope. The conclusion of the passage: "Remember that my life is like the wind my eye will not see happiness again."

If I had to venture a guess, very few Catholic preachers dealt with the reading from Job at all, or, if they did, they did so in a cursory manner. This is sad because Job's words are words with which many people are familiar. Life is often difficult in a variety of ways. I think we make a mistake in rushing too quickly past suffering, misery and their effects. In a rush to reach Easter, you can't leap Good Friday in a single bound, nor should you want to, which is not the same as saying you need to go out and find ways to suffer. Don't worry, if it hasn't already, life will cause you to suffer. Rushing too quickly past pain, suffering and misery, I believe, truncates and attenuates the power of the Gospel, the power of which lies in experience, not words.

Paul, too, in our second reading from 1 Corinthians, is complaining. Among other things, he trying to make sense of the suffering he endured while proclaiming, or endeavoring to proclaim, the Gospel. I don't mind sharing at this point that the phrase on which I meditated from the Job was "When shall I rise?" It's important, however, to put the phrase in context. In the context of the passage and even the verse (verse 4) in itself, the phrase is not a metaphysical question: "When I lie down I say, 'When shall I arise?' then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn." It is about making it through a long night of suffering. In the reading from Paul's letter I found something of an answer to the question "When shall I rise?" I shall rise when I do everything for the sake of the Gospel. Doing everything for the sake of the Gospel means living selflessly as a sacrifice for others without complaining, seeing it as a blessing, the lifting of a burden, not an imposition of one. At least for me, self is the biggest burden I carry.

Healing Peter's mother-in-law, by John Bridges, 19th century

I will rise when Jesus heals me.

Living for the sake of the Gospel requires me to be a man of prayer, which, in turn, requires me to go to deserted places. A deserted place is a place devoid of people. In our Gospel, Jesus has spent the day not merely surrounded by people but engulfed by humanity. While Mark gives some indication that not everyone was healed, he gives no indication that Jesus turned anyone away. I think it's fair to say, for Jesus, it was an exhausting day. Nonetheless, the Lord arose before the dawn the next day in order to go to an empty place and pray. We also learn in very clear terms that Peter was married.

His disciples, perhaps awakening and realizing he was gone, "pursued" or "hunted" for him. I am no expert in Koine Greek, but I like the term "pursued," preferring it to other English words one might employ in translation. They pursued Jesus. They found Jesus. What did they tell him? "Everyone is looking for you." But he did not say, "Okay, let's go back to Capernaum." They left and went to other Galilean towns and villages.

We have a tendency in our spiritual lives to want to go back to those "good times," times when prayer seemed easy, answers immediate and generous, etc. Because it is part of life, in the spiritual life there is no going back. Jesus calls us ever forward. It seems to me that this truth is a source of tension in the Church at present. As the barque of Peter sails over the ocean of time it is not unusual to encounter choppy waters and even gale force storms but we're always headed for the farthest shore despite the temptation to head back.

I realize this a bit disjointed but I think sometimes writing and sharing unvarnished thoughts can be useful.

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