Reflection on the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Job 7:1-71 Corinthians 9:16-23 Mark 1:29-39
The first reading for this Sunday made me cringe: What in the world can I do with Job! We’re just not comfortable with complaining; not such free-flowing, extended complaining. We don’t generally approve of complaining, not when it is on purpose and at length. But here’s Job, really entering into it, doing it with energy and truthfulness, really owning his complaints!
When I complain, I try to slip a few choice words into the flow of conversation, so it won’t sound too much like whining, or playing the martyr. But here in the first reading, we just have a few lines from a whole book of the Bible in which Job complains flat out for most of the 42 chapters. There’s nothing indirect about Job’s complaining, he talks about God and he talks right to God, who he believes is the source of all his ills. Job’s life has definitely not been easy. Without apparent cause, he’s lost his wealth and all his children, he’s been physically sick, he’s been disfigured by the illnesses. He’s living in terrible circumstances, and he’s feeling totally abused.
Job’s friends and his wife are appalled that Job tells all his woes right to God. But as the story goes on and on, Job’s frank openness, his vulnerability at the heart of his complaining, reveals Job’s complaints as true intimate sharing with God. At the end of the book, Job, sitting in his ashes, knows fully that through everything he has been in the presence of One he trusts implicitly, One who listens and hears him fully.
Many times, when we are living through difficulties, we try to tough it out in silence, thinking we should handle it ourselves and not to burden other people; keep a stiff upper lip, put a smile on our face and hold our head up. Does that sound familiar? Like Job’s friends, I also often feel impatient when someone carries on and on with complaining. Even if I never say so, I think “why doesn’t she get over it!” Even in my own quiet time with the God of my understanding, my mistaken sense of independence keeps me from pouring out all my misery and hurts to the tender One who holds my heart.
Job, on the other hand, lays it all out, addressing God as a trusted and disappointing intimate. I can picture Job sitting cross-legged in his sack cloth and ashes, all disfigured and uncomfortable, scratching his scabs and holding his head because he’s miserable. And the God of his understanding sits across the fire from him, encouraging Job to tell all about it in the most free and confiding way. Job says, “I wish that you would take care of this misery … I don’t even know why it’s happening … I am so miserable and I thought you would take care of this … Hurry up!”
Now consider the Gospel. Jesus is in the company of men he has only recently drawn into his inner circle. They don’t know him at all, and he doesn’t know them very well. They’ve just left the temple of last week’s Gospel, and now they’re going to Peter’s house for an evening’s rest. Peter is a little apologetic because the hostess of his house, his mother-in-law, is sick. When Jesus and the four men arrive, much to everybody’s astonishment Jesus goes right to the mother-in-law, into her room where she lies on her sick bed! This was completely out of the ordinary; the men and the householders may have wondered, “Didn’t his mother teach him any manners?!” Nevertheless, there it is: Jesus stands at the mother-in-law’s bedside, and again he does an outrageous thing for a Jewish man of his day, he touches her! He takes her by the hand. This is just not behavior that is expected. This is the behavior of a privileged member of the family, one who is intimate with another — in the trusting, confiding way that Job is intimate with his God.
With only Jesus’ presence and his intimate touch, Peter’s mother-in-law finds energy and strength. She gets up and she serves the men. This line in the Gospel also makes me cringe; there she is taking on the usual woman’s role, and they let her, even though they know she’s been sick. — No, no, I don’t think that’s the story at all. I think the story is that the woman has experienced an intensely personal presence, so healing, so warm, so supportive of her inner person, that she is able and eager to act the same way. She comes into the presence of the men, wanting to nourish and nurture them with her warm and healing presence. Isn’t that how God’s presence in us enables us to be a truly comforting presence to one another?
This morning we again experience the presence of Christ in us and among us, warming our hearts to offer that God-like intimacy to one another. We are at our very best when we have experienced God’s healing presence in our own personal lives. Then, we can listen lovingly to one another’s deepest hurting, and though we may not be able to fix or explain anything, the intimate gift of listening brings a different, deeper kind of healing, and the intimate presence of God.