"After Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law, He was overwhelmed with a tidal wave of human suffering and need. When Peter tracked Him down, Jesus had been off alone praying and discerning." - Fr. Scott Lewis, S.J. Photo/Wikimedia Commons via John Bridges (Public domain) (CC BY 2.0)

Hope, perseverance will see us through

By 
  • January 29, 2015

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 things go reasonably well and we are basically happy, then life itself seems positive and even joyful. But when illness, personal failures, pain and misfortunes make their appearance, our world can change in an instant. Life can seem negative, painful, dreary and futile. Even the things that used to bring us joy lose their lustre.

We all know the story of Job. In this particular passage, he is in the midst of his catastrophes — loss of family and fortune, along with the collapse of his health. Through his misery, he asks, “What’s the point?” Wouldn’t it be better to die or even to never have been born? Not many would have blamed Job if he had thrown in the towel in despair. But he didn’t — Job stuck with it. He didn’t deny his negative feelings or dark moments, but he did not allow them to define him. His “friends” offered the usual platitudes that are familiar to all of us concerning suffering. They insisted that he must have done something to deserve his fate, so he should “man up” and confess his sin. But Job stuck to three things: his innocence, his trust in God and his hope, expressed in his conviction that he knew his redeemer was at hand.

When God appeared to him in the whirlwind, Job wasn’t given a reason for his suffering but was rewarded for his faith and perseverance. The entire story is an extended parable of human existence. Most of the time, we cannot understand our suffering and misfortune or that of others. We see so much undeserved misery and heartbreak in the world that many quit believing in God or even the beauty and meaningfulness of life. The crisis of hope and meaning is very much part of our world. A loss of a sense of the sacred and spiritual along with the extreme volatility and insecurity of our world have taken their toll. Will we have the answers? Probably not — but there is a way out. Perhaps we are too addicted to answers. Job shows us that hope and perseverance will see us through. We have to get on with the business of life, regardless of how difficult it can get, with hope, grace, courage, humour and a sense of gratitude. The meaning will unfold for us in the midst of doing. Finally, there will be those moments when we once again burst into the sunlight and it will be clear that life has beauty and meaning.

Paul had some intimation of this. His life as an apostle had been arduous, dangerous and fraught with controversy, misunderstanding and failure. The metaphor for his life that he loved so much was an athlete running the race. He ran for the prize and would never slack off or give up. Rather than focusing on his own difficulties, Paul was always reaching out to others to bring them the good news and offer them hope and encouragement. He became “all things to all people,” in the hope that he would at least be able to reach some. This does not mean that he bent with the wind or didn’t have principles. It was simply an illustration of his insistence on meeting people where they were in terms that they could understand and accept. He went to them rather than insisting that they come to him. Not bad advice for being a Christian in the 21st century.

Word got around after Jesus healed the mother-in-law of Peter, and soon Jesus was overwhelmed by a tidal wave of human suffering and need. He could have spent the rest of His life in that town healing afflictions and casting out demons and never run out of work. When Peter tracked Him down, Jesus had been off alone praying and discerning — things were now clear for Him. As good a ministry as taking care of the folks in that town might be, that was not why He had come. His job was to bring the good news to the other towns and villages. Like Paul, He had to “run the race” and reach out to people everywhere. Reaching as many people as possible with a message of joy and hope was the mission of Jesus, and it is also ours.

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