Old Testament Reading: Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Responsorial Psalm: 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
Gospel: Mark 1:29-39
Healing the Righteous
In the Old Testament, sinners suffer because they have offended God; but with Job we have an exception. Job suffers although he is a righteous man. His suffering is a test of his faithfulness, which is the only possible way of understanding how a good man can suffer. God’s reply to Job’s question as to why he suffers is rather disheartening for the ears of a twentieth century ear: “Who is this that obscures divine plans with words of ignorance? Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will tell you, and you tell me the answers!” God then goes into an extended series of rhetorical questions about who else has done these great things. This moves Job to silence and repentance before God, and then Job is restored. In this narrative, God’s otherness could not be established more firmly. Ultimately, God’s reasons are inscrutable and to insist upon God holding himself accountable to humanity is hubris. End of story.
In today’s Gospel account of Jesus’ healing, he visits with Peter, heals his mother-in-law, and continues teaching and healing in nearby villages in the Galilee. The remarkable part about this gospel is Jesus’ self-stated mission as one of preaching rather than healing. Mark’s gospel aligns Jesus’ healing to be subordinate to the mission of announcing the Kingdom. What we have isn’t Jesus the Wonderworker; we have instead Jesus the Preacher. While preaching is primary, the healing is also strongly connected. It is from the Word that healing/salvation proceeds. Jesus’ act of healing weren’t devices to draw a crowd; they were demonstrations of the power and authority of the Word-Made-Flesh.
What, then, can we make of this evolving sense of God’s love in light of suffering? It is interesting to reflect that we do not stand before God with clenched fists to wonder at the suffering of notorious people, but stand slack-jawed that we should suffer such calamity. We may not be perfect, we reason, but this hardly justifies our treatment at the hands of one who is said to love us unconditionally. What is remarkable is that Jesus contemplating his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane also wishes to escape his suffering, but rather than appeal to his sonship, he simply asks that if it is God’s will, that he be spared this trial. Mother Teresa’s famous quip contemplating the Cross comes to mind: “If this is how He treats his friends…”. There is no “answer”, I think, to suffering that one can use to escape our ordeals. There is no escaping suffering, not for us, not for the innocent or the guilty, the righteous and the sinner. One thing the notorious sinner has over the righteous is they find it easier to accept their suffering as something ordained as punishment, the righteous don’t seem to have such recourse. They can only stand before God with clenched fists wondering “why me?” It is this sense of disbelief that the righteous must be healed. But unlike the righteous man, Job, for whom God's will seem inscrutible, God's will has been revealed in Jesus as the Christ; what God thinks is no longer a matter of mystery and speculation, but a matter of ongoing revelation in the mystery of his work through the Spirit in the body of the Church.
As the gathering of the faithful, we all stand before God equally unrighteous compared to the great gift of God’s grace. God, who came into His creation, entered our suffering, suffered as Christ to show us the way to resurrection in the midst of our suffering so that we might live. God doesn’t give followers of Christ a pass on suffering, but a way through suffering to a new life. Like Simon Peter’s mother in law, Christ heals us so that we may serve.