The best guarantee we have is God

  • February 1, 2009
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Feb. 8 (Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39)

When people are young, a year seems like an eternity — especially a school year! No one can imagine themselves as “old” (25 or maybe even 30!). But years fly swiftly by and before we know it we are “there.” Then life seems short indeed and for some it may even be the painful servitude described in Job. Some might even be moved to question the meaning of it all — here today and gone tomorrow.

But that is the key: meaning. The loss of meaning is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing modern people. When meaning disintegrates despair, self-destructive behaviour and cynicism are not far behind. Job’s lament is in the context of his inexplicable suffering. He cannot understand — his conscience is clear — and yet his world continues to crumble around him. Meaning has fled, but his faith in God remains despite all of the well-meaning advice he receives. He maintains both his integrity and his faith. He refuses to confess a sin he has not committed or to “curse God and die” as his exasperated wife advises. His faith and trust in God override his yearning for the meaning of his suffering. In the end his faith is vindicated and he is restored to health and fortune but he never does receive an explanation for all that he has experienced.

And so it is with us: sometimes we know the “why” of our situation but often we do not and will not. The one source of power and strength that we are guaranteed is the presence of God (even when we do not perceive it) and God’s faithful love. We can allow the painful struggles and negative experiences of life to darken our hearts and minds or to rob us of faith — and many do. On the other hand, we can allow ourselves to be formed by them in faith — the choice is ours. We should always remember that God is never absent nor does God ever abandon us.

Ego and identity can work overtime to derail our attempts to serve God and others. Paul’s response (although he sometimes falls far short) is simply to let go of all the props that make up one’s identity. He does not try to play the strongman or the spiritual master nor does he cling to his previous accomplishments and status as a Pharisee. Refusing to stay aloof from ordinary people and their concerns, he is more than willing to metaphorically speak their language and to walk with them. In a similar fashion, we should imitate the divine generosity and loving kindness by reaching out and meeting people where they are rather than where we would like them to be.

Our symbols of faith tell us that we must take not only the divine nature of Christ seriously but also His human nature. This has been difficult for Christians to do for there is almost always an assumption that everything was easy for Jesus and that He had immediate answers to everything. The passage from Mark is a case in point. Having performed many healings and exorcisms, Jesus found Himself awash in a sea of human misery. People were desperate and they came in droves. Jesus felt the need both to be alone and to pray for He needed both far more than we can imagine. He had to refocus on His primary mission and to discern what He should do next. He had to search for guidance and answers just as we do. When the Apostles find Him they inform Him breathlessly that everyone was searching for Him — probably in hope and expectation that there would be another round of healings and miracles. But it was not to be.

With a clear sense of mission and purpose, He stated resolutely that they had to move on. His mission was to proclaim the good news to other towns and cities and that is what He intended to do.

Often our most difficult choices are not between good and evil but between good and better. At these moments the challenge is to remain focused on our life mission, commitment and the greater good. Prayer and interior silence will be our greatest friends when we are faced with these choices.