FEBRUARY 7, 2010 – 5th SUNDAY; JOB 7: 1-7; 1 COR 9:16-23; MARK 1; 29-39

 

ARE NOT MAN’S DAYS THOSE OF HIRELINGS? These words of Job introduce the theme of labor that is taken up in each of the three readings we have just heard in today’s liturgy. Job’s description of life as drudgery is spoken by a man afflicted with overwhelming troubles that cause him to be filled with disgust for life. His recent losses so reduce his vision that he can imagine nothing but misery for the future. He loses hope and is led to protest, exclaiming “I shall not see happiness again.” That is where we leave him today, a figure of human wretchedness, without hope for the future. We know, of course, that in the end he was proved wrong. As the story of his life stands in the Bible, Job’s sufferings are not allowed to continue so as to determine his final state. He is rewarded with greater wealth and prosperity that he had known earlier. Modern scholarship has been able to recognize that this happy ending is not the work of the original author. Rather, the final pages of the Book of Job are the work of an editor who was convinced that God’s Providence is just. He would not allow a just man to suffer without intervening so as to assure that virtue finds its reward even in this life.

 

Experience, however, does not always conform to this model; indeed, often enough quite the contrary is the case, as we learn from the example of Saint Paul. In the second reading today he refers to his preaching as an obligation, a heavy task imposed on him. He, like Job, describes his condition as that of a slave: “I have made myself a slave to all” he tells the Corinthians. We know that after carrying the burden of anxious concern for the communities he instructed, persecutions, weary and dangerous travels, he spent his last years as a prisoner and was executed in the end.  Nevertheless, there is a wholly different tone to his voice than that which marks Job’s complaints.

 

While Job felt so deeply his painful sufferings as crushing that he exclaims that his days are “without hope”, Paul, on the contrary, remains optimistic in his various sufferings. Scattered through his epistles are twenty-three occasions when he speaks of rejoicing and twenty-two times he writes of joy. He even exclaims “Now I rejoice in my sufferings.” (Col 1:24)  He is not only filled with hope but experiences joy in the Spirit. “Rejoice in hope” is a kind of motto He urges the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.” He goes on to give the reason for such joy: “the Lord is near.” It is this conviction, in fact, that makes all the difference between the tonality of Paul’s work and the Book of Job. This joyous feature is the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus so that he described the kingdom of God as being “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. Paul does not by any means deny that suffering overtakes us all in life, but he does not view them, whatever form they take on, as reasons to doubt God’s care. He even finds in his sufferings an additional cause for joy: “I rejoice in my sufferings” for the sake of Christ’s Church. If we would join him in his joy, we must enter the place of heart and learn to abide there where we shall discover the joy that gives us strength and perseverance in fidelity.

 

The Gospel we have just heard does not use the word “labor” but presents the Lord Jesus as actively laboring to bring healing and especially speaks of his dedication to preaching that accompanied his healing acts. In a few words we are told that this preaching ministry took him throughout the whole of Galilee and so involved much traveling from one village to another. As we learn elsewhere, it also entailed encountering opposition, lack of understanding, and after a time, actively hostile resistance. Though he met with exhausting labor and opposition Our Lord never yielded to discouragement or to doubt that his Father was sustaining him. His trusting fidelity eventually was tested by mocking, torture and death on the cross. In spite of feelings of abandonment he persevered in carrying out his witness of obedience and in the end abandoned himself into the hands of his Father with a trust stronger than death.  His labors, his sufferings and death are the redemption offered to the Father for us still today. That is the meaning of this Eucharist. May we find that same joy, stronger than suffering that filled Paul who was convinced that Christ gave himself for us because he loves us. &      


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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