Fifth Sunday of the Year
5 February 2012
My dear friends,
In today’s First Reading we meet Job. The Book of Job tells us he had a loving wife, seven sons and three daughters. He also had the largest estate in the kingdom. We are told he lived an upright and blameless life, and never abused the power and privilege he enjoyed. He used his wealth for hospitality, and his influence for helping the needy. No one went to Job’s house for help and left disappointed.
His piety and sanity were put to the test. In a series of disasters, he lost his family, his friends, his fortune and his possessions. When all this came to pass, he rent his robes and fell to the ground praying : “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”. It was an extraordinary sentiment to express in the circumstances; in the teeth of all his misfortunes and losses, he does not lose his faith in God.
He was next afflicted with sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. His wife turned on God, but he himself hung in there. The question was raised, “What has Job done to deserve this”. Why does he have to suffer? Why should an innocent and good man be punished so? In Old Testament times, it was thought that suffering was directly related to people’s conduct, and that anyone who suffered had sinned. His friends told him he should admit his guilt before God. Job assured them he had not sinned and had always loved God and neighbour.
While protesting his innocence, Job sought an explanation for it all. “Why me?” was his regular cry. He tried to hold fast to his faith in God, but despaired of a change for the better. We hear his pain and despair in the words of the First Reading – “Is not man’s life on earth nothing more than pressed service, his time no better than hired drudgery?” Job was not favoured with the answer to the question of suffering, even though his fortune did change for the better. He is a symbol of the innocent man who wonders about the pain he experiences. We can all identify with Job when at different times throughout our lives we share his hurt, his anguish and bewilderment. We have all felt like asking some of the questions he posed, and shared his despair, and we may still be wondering, “Why suffering? Why me?”
When Jesus was confronted with human sickness and suffering, he did not answer the question “Why suffering?” He moved to heal the afflicted. The Gospel reading talked about the whole town crowding around the door. Each of them may have had questions about the why of suffering, but the main reason for their coming was the hope of being healed. Jesus healed them and freed them; their hope had not been misplaced. Once the word circulated, an even bigger crowd gathered in the hope
of being freed from their affliction. The pattern was the same in the next town. In spite of his need for some time for himself and time to talk to his Father in prayer, Jesus responded lovingly and attended to their needs. That is why he has come, to enable us to live more fully.
Jesus will later have his own questions about the physical and mental and emotional sufferings that came his way as his life on earth moved towards closure. Whatever the questions, his commitment to healing and to caring for the sick was without bounds. This was his witness. This was at the centre of his coming to live among us and it is at the centre of his message and teaching, – “he went all through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out devils.”
In the witness of Jesus Christ, we can see that God loves us even, and maybe especially, in our weakness and fragility. We can see a reflection of God’s care in the selflessness of parents, in the commitment of doctors, in the sensitivity of nurses and in the gentleness of hospital chaplains as well as the generosity of all those who tend to the suffering of others and work towards their rehabilitation.
When we live in that way we are God’s compassion in the flesh. St. Paul expresses this forcefully in his first letter to the Corinthians – “I have made myself the slave of everyone” he says. By the way he gave himself so fully to preaching and establishing the kingdom of God, he reveals to us something of the love and compassion of God in the face of human suffering. To relieve another’s pain, as Jesus himself experienced, we usually have to be prepared to share it. For Christians, suffering becomes an opportunity to share in Christ’s passion so that we may also share in his Easter victory. Even though we may not fully understand the why and even though we may not have been given the answers to all our questions, in God’s revealing of himself in the scriptures and in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ we have been given the means of dealing with suffering and the capacity to cope. We are offered healing and the power to heal.
+Liam S. MacDaid