February 4, 2018 — Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
It is not always possible to establish a theme in relation to the readings for a particular Sunday. In fact, on this Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time we might say there are two themes — suffering and stewardship. Suffering in particular is something our society has come to view almost as an evil. Yet, suffering is part of life. Our faith takes this into account. Whenever you are suffering, all you have to do is look at a Crucifix. Seeing Christ on that Cross should remind us how much the Lord loves us, enough to be tortured and crucified for us. When we are in agony, Christ is in agony with us.
Our First Reading comes from the Old Testament Book of Job. The suffering of Job is legendary. You perhaps need to read the entire book to put things in perspective with today’s brief reading. Job was blessed with wealth and a blessed family. Then there is a scene in Heaven where Satan tells God that Job is pious and good only because he is so blessed; if he had none of this he would most likely curse God. Job loses everything. Yet he is able to maintain his faith, saying at one point, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed is the name of the Lord.”
Job suffered immensely. In today’s reading he declares, “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” There is a translation of that same phrase that reads, “Is not man’s life on earth a battle?” There is no denying that. The point is not how much we suffer; the point is how we respond to that. As Catholics and Christians we have been given hope in eternal and suffering-free life through Christ’s sacrifice for us. With Lent only a few days away (it begins on Wednesday, February 14) this is a good time to be reminded of that.
St. Paul changes the focus a bit in our Second Reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians. Paul certainly suffered in many ways during his life, although like Job, he was at one time quite comfortable and seemingly blessed. The key line in today’s reading may be “…I have been entrusted with a stewardship.” The stewardship to which he refers is his role in life to preach the Gospel no matter what the response or the attitudes he faces.
Suffering may not be a situation in which we have a choice. It is thrust upon us. In the same way Paul knew that his ministry was not a matter of choice. It was something he was called to do; it was something he had to do. He was called to preach and he feels compelled to fulfill that call. For many of us we are not certain what our calling is, but stewardship asks that we try to identify what that calling may be, and then, of course, we need to respond by trying to carry that out. In some cases it may require sacrifice and even suffering. However, if we live as God wants us to we can be assured of the same reward Paul understands — eternal life with our Lord and our God. Like Job we can declare, “Blessed is the name of the Lord.”
In our Gospel Reading from St. Mark, we hear the continuation of what we heard last week. Last week Jesus preached in the synagogue on the Sabbath day; today we hear what he did when he left the synagogue. We must remember that Jesus was in Capernaum. Capernaum was more or less the center of Jesus’ activities and ministry. It was also where the apostles Peter, James, Andrew, John, and Matthew were from. It is thus natural that the Lord would know many people there. The first thing we hear is that he visited Peter’s mother-in-law who was suffering with a fever. This act of healing is significant first because it was not in front of a large crowd, and second because it indicates that the Lord was interested in individuals. He loved them and cared for them, and was not doing it to promote himself. It was an unselfish act of stewardship.
Also, reflective of how he dealt with the demons possessing the man last week, the Lord did it with authority and simplicity. Perhaps the most telling portion of this Gospel is what Jesus did the next morning. “Rising early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” Jesus knew it was important to be alone with God if possible. We need to do the same. Jesus did not pray because he was weak, but because He was strong. He knew the source of His strength — God the Father. When we are busy and under pressure, as the Lord was, it becomes even more important to have a regular and active prayer life. Our personal prayer habits and policies need to reflect the same thing: this is especially important with Lent approaching.