5TH SUNDAY A 2012
The gospel reading for today is presented as a contrast to the first reading. The first reading is Job's lament. In the first reading, we hear from that Biblical expert on suffering—Job. It’s a short description of Job’s—and humankind’s—experience of suffering and struggle to maintain hope. If we read more of the Book of Job, we discover that it doesn’t try to resolve the question of human suffering either. Rather it ends by bringing us face to face with the very mystery of God.
Through the person and the story of Job, the ancient writer has taken on a perennial question: If God is good and just and caring, how could God allow someone as blameless as Job to suffer such loss? Traditionally, suffering was associated with sin, and Job’s friends explored with him the possibility that he or someone in his family had sinned and brought on his troubles. Through the several conversations with his friends, the sacred author shows Job coming to the profound realization that life, as we experience it, is a conundrum. Good people do indeed suffer. Children get cancer and die before they have a chance to enjoy a full life. Famines devastate entire populations. Calamities of nature, cause immeasurable pain and loss. Have the sins of all these people brought on their sad, untimely demise? Obviously, human suffering is a far more complex mystery that defies simplistic explanations.
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. We cannot earn God’s protection from the cross by fidelity to love; indeed in fact fidelity to love most often leads to the cross. With Job, we’re invited to turn ourselves over to God and to trust in God’s infinite wisdom and care for us.
Jesus proves himself master over evil, the one who brings God’s forgiveness, the healer of human suffering. Eventually, he conquers death itself on the Cross.
Job's lament is the cry we all feel within ourselves when we become seriously ill, or, perhaps, even more, when someone we love, a spouse, a child or a parent become ill or even die. Perhaps our hurt is not physical. Perhaps it is emotional. A marriage breaks up, a child runs away, a friend is publicly discredited. When we feel pain, regardless of its source, we want to join Job and say, "I shall never see happiness again."
It is to prove this lament wrong that Jesus comes as the Divine Healer. In the Gospel for today he heals Simon's mother-in-law of a fever. He heals people with all sorts of illnesses including possession which may refer both to diabolic possession and psychological, or psychiatric illnesses. Jesus heals so many people that he has to find a solitary place in the desert for a few moments of union with his Father.
Jesus heals. He heals the pain not just of the people of the past, but the pain of the people of today. Some receive physical healing immediately. Others receive healing in stages. Some receive a clear miracle. Others who have dedicated their lives to continuing the healing ministry of the Lord, doctors and nurses, have developed their own skills and intelligence to be vehicles of the Lord's healing.
Healthy though we now may feel, all of us must face illness or suffering of one kind or other. A very high proportion of us might also experience depression and despair similar to that described in the Book of Job.
Whatever its cause, it is something that is very difficult to deal with. Depression and despair needs healing just as much as any other illness. And like any other illness we can offer it to God. We can ask him to accept these sufferings as our share in the Cross of Christ. For the Christian suffering is never without meaning. The pain we experience is not merely negative. It is a part of the great struggle in which all humankind is engaged. It enables us to be united with Christ in the one great act of redemption.
This week we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, with it’s invitation to pray for the sick. Next Sunday, our parish will celebrate the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick immediately after the mass.
The sacrament is for all who experience a serious or chronic illness, in body or Spirit. That may be manifest in disease of a bodily organ, depression or addiction. It is like all sacraments, a communal celebration of the prayer of the Church. Invite friends who are suffering to attend. Plan to stay and pray for those receiving the Sacrament.