Feb 7, 2021: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

1st Reading – Job 7:1-4, 6-7

Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?”
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.

Although Job is the protagonist of the book that bears his name, he is not the author; the author is unknown. The lesson of this intriguing book is that those who are righteous may suffer while on earth, and their sufferings are a test of their fidelity. Man’s finite mind cannot probe the depths of the divine omniscience that governs the world.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story, some context will be helpful in understanding today’s reading. Job, an oriental chieftain, pious and upright, richly endowed in his own person and in domestic prosperity, suffers a sudden and complete reversal of fortune. He loses his property and his children, he is afflicted with a terrible disease, and sorrow oppresses his soul.

Our reading for today is part of Job’s lament about his condition. Crushed by the torment of his own situation, Job bemoans the harshness of life itself.

Job spoke, saying: Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?

Being well aware that his situation is by no means unique, Job makes general statements about the predicament of being human.

The term drudgery is understood by some as a reference to combat (see also Job 14:14). In that sense, Job is comparing life to military service, which makes terrible demands on an individual and jeopardizes one’s very life.

Are not his days those of a hireling?

In Job’s eyes, life is like being a hireling: always beholden to another and having little or nothing to say about the conditions of work.

He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages.

Finally, life is like the predicament of a slave, who has nothing to say about anything and is completely dependent on the slaveholder.

The limitations of man that Job describes are in line with biblical teaching about the plight of the world resulting from original sin and personal sins. No one can escape this struggle.

With so many circumstances being beyond human control, Job, like many of us, feels helpless in the face of them all.

So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been told off for me. If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?” then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.

Job now describes the specific misery of his own life. His days are filled with hardship; and rather than providing him with the respite he desperately needs, his nights are filled with restlessness. There is nowhere for him to turn. Life seems to be armed against him; there is neither defense nor escape.

My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope.

The transitory nature of life is also troubling to Job. His days come and go as swiftly as the fingers of a deft weaver operating a shuttle, with no opportunity to reverse his fate.

Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.

Another image illustrates both the ephemeral and the emptiness of Job’s life: it is like a wind with no substance.

Job sees no value in the life that has been thrust upon him. It is filled with affliction and devoid of meaning. The nature of his complaint suggests that Job believes he is being treated unfairly; Job believes he is innocent. His words show that his suffering is not just physical suffering but spiritual suffering. He is losing hope in the loving God he thought he knew.

Job’s lament is an important one. Religious devotion does not require that we refrain from complaining. In fact, biblical tradition holds many examples of righteous people lamenting the circumstances of life and complaining to God. There are many laments, for example, among the Psalms (see Psalms 51 and 60); the book of Lamentations is an entire book of complaints.

Complaints, however, can actually be statements of faith. Begging God to alleviate suffering is both an acknowledgment of God’s power and an act of confidence that God will intervene. This is the nature of Job’s lament.

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23

Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!
If I do so willingly, I have a recompense,
but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.
What then is my recompense?
That, when I preach,
I offer the gospel free of charge
so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.
To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.

In our second reading, Paul explains the conditions under which he preaches the gospel and the reasons why he will not accept financial help from the Corinthians.

Brothers and sisters: If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, 

Preaching was the very reason Paul had been called to follow Christ (see Acts 9:15; 22:10; 26:16). In his eyes, he deserved no special credit for this and therefore had no grounds for boasting.

In fact, considering the circumstances from which he’d been summoned (persecuting the infant church), it is clear that Paul’s vocation was determined by God, was directed by God, and was successful because of God.

and woe to me if I do not preach it!

Paul realized that it was his destiny to preach; he had no option. If he didn’t preach, he would experience the sense of unfulfillment that always accompanies faithlessness in God’s will for our lives.

If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.

The issue was not if Paul preached, but how he preached. Did he do so willingly and with enthusiasm, or was it done grudgingly, with resentment?

Regardless of his regard for his work, Paul had been entrusted with a certain charge: his stewardship (oikonomía), his assigned duties. In other words, at minimum, he was just doing his job.

“The servant sent by the Lord does what he has to do even if he is not willing, because if he does not do it he will suffer for it. Moses preached to Pharaoh even though he did not want to (Exodus 4:10; 5:1), and Jonah was forced to preach to the Ninevites (Jonah 1:1-3:4).” [The Ambrosiaster (between 366-384 AD), Commentaries on Thirteen Pauline Epistles]

What then is my recompense? That, when I preach, I offer the gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

It seems that Paul makes it a habit to waive his right to financial support and preached free of charge. Such a preference would be understandable, for then he would be beholden to no one and could preach the gospel without concern for offending someone.

Again, whether he received wages or not, he was just doing his duty.

Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. 

Paul was free-born, a citizen of Rome, which was unusual among the Jews. In spite of this, he conducted himself as a servant to his listeners and often acted as if he had no privileges. He did this in order to attract more converts.

He made himself a servant, that they might be made free.

To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.

This hearkens back to the previous chapter of this letter, not included in today’s reading, where Paul exercises restraint on behalf of those who are weak in the faith so that they may not stumble.

There is a very thin line between being free of the constraints placed upon him by others and being willing to accommodate himself to their needs.

“Everywhere the Savior becomes ‘all things to all.’ To the hungry, bread; to the thirsty, water; to the dead, resurrection; to the sick, a physician; to sinners, redemption.” [Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 350 AD), Sermon on the Paralytic 10]

All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.

Paul states the reason for his efforts: so that both he and his followers may partake of the fruits of the gospel together. Joy in the gospel is amplified by sharing it.

Gospel – Mark 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

Today’s gospel reading picks up where last week’s left off. It draws together three distinct yet connected episodes: the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, the healing of many townspeople, and the story of his departure from Capernaum.

On leaving the synagogue

As we heard last week, Jesus has just preached and performed an exorcism in the synagogue, leaving the people in awe of his authority.

he entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.

The fact that Mark explicitly identifies James and John as being present suggests that this was intended to be an eyewitness account. This is the same inner circle of apostles (Simon Peter, James, and John) that will witness several of the most intimate and awe-inspiring events in Jesus’ life.

Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.

Without speaking a word, Jesus raises her up (égeíro). This is the same Greek verb Mark will use in the resurrection accounts (14:28; 16:6 and elsewhere).

Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

She was healed and she began to minister to them (diakonéo). This detail suggests the completeness of her cure, and the verb signifies more than just domestic work — it connotes wider service within the community. Some see this as an indication of the service expected of those who have been saved by Christ (Mark 10:43-45).

Note that Jesus has excused himself from Jewish regulations by performing a healing on the Sabbath. A similar act will later be considered an infraction of religious observance (Mark 3:2).

When it was evening, after sunset,

The second healing account begins. The sun has gone down, so they are not guilty of carrying burdens on the Sabbath.

they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.

The two general categories of people who have been helped by Jesus this day: the ill (Simon’s mother-in-law) and the possessed (the man in the synagogue).

The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons,

The report of Jesus’ marvelous deeds is given without detail.

There is no distinction meant between the “all” who were brought and the “many” who were healed. The parallel accounts say all were healed (Matthew 8:16; Luke 4:40).

not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Like angels, demons possess a supernatural type of knowledge and therefore they recognize Jesus as the Messiah (see Mark 1:24).

It is ironic that demons seem to know who Jesus is and what he is about, while his followers and the crowds he attracts misunderstand him and his mission.

Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.

After having healed so many, Jesus knows that the crowd is going to grow exponentially the next day. He needs some privacy and some quiet time to pray. The imperfect form of the verbs suggests that a prolonged period of time was intended.

Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”

Mark doesn’t tell us why everyone is looking for Jesus, but the context leads us to think that the crowd wants more cures. The Greek word zetein, translated here as “looking,” is always used by Mark with a negative connotation (8:11-12; 11:18; 12:2; 14:1, 11, 55; 3:32; 16:6).

In saying this to Jesus, Simon is implying that he should reappear in public. The disciples were probably proud that their master had become so popular so quickly and wanted him to exploit his celebrity.

He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.”

Jesus’ acts of power are in service to his preaching about the imminent in-breaking of the kingdom of God. They are not meant to be ends in themselves.

The crowds are coming because they want miracles; however, Jesus wants them to come hear the gospel he will preach.

So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

Jesus’ ministry is summarized as preaching and driving out demons. These two activities are actually very closely connected. The principal message of Jesus’ preaching is the long-awaited establishment of the reign of God (Mark 1:15). However, before God’s reign can take firm root and thrive, the reign of evil must be dislodged and cast out. Driving out demons was actually a confrontation between the power of God in Jesus and the power of evil (Mark 1:21-28). The exorcisms acted as external proof of the authority of Jesus and the trustworthiness of the gospel he preached. It’s therefore quite fitting to condense the works of Jesus in this way.

Note that his field of activity now encompasses “the whole of Galilee.”

Connections and Themes

Today’s readings offer snapshots of three related dimensions of human existence: the harshness of life, Jesus relieving us of this harshness, and the disciple preaching Jesus’ message of salvation. In their own way, these readings continue the theme of discipleship and also add to the profile of Jesus that is being presented.

The harshness of life.  Disappointment and suffering come to everyone. For some, sorrow seems to be the very essence of life. It can take such hold of us that the happiness of the past is swallowed up, the beauty of better days is forgotten, and the hope of a brighter future is imperiled. Life ceases to be an adventure and takes on the guise of drudgery. At such times we no longer view suffering as an ordeal that must be endured for a time, but will eventually pass. Rather, suffering appears to be our permanent fate, and life seems too short for suffering to run its course. When it takes hold of us in this way, we become identified with our distress; we are the tormented.

Jesus relieves us.  Jesus knows the harshness of life because he is one of us. More than this, he sees it in the lives of people he loves, and he is touched by their torment. He has come to release people from the demons that possess them, from the illness that undermines their lives. He has come to bring the reign of God, the reign of peace and fulfillment. He has come to heal the brokenhearted, to bind up their wounds. His liberating and healing power goes out to all those who approach him. If we invite him in, he will sustain us.

The disciple preaches the message.  Paul identifies himself as a messenger of this gospel of salvation and fulfillment. He preaches wholeheartedly, with fervor and the commitment of one who himself has been released from the clutches of his demons. He is so committed to his mission that he empathizes with all those who will hear his preaching. He identifies with the slaves, the weak, the brokenhearted, all those who know well the harshness of life. He does this so that the message he preaches does not appear to be disassociated from the realities of life.

Just as we easily identify with Job in his suffering, so should we identify with Paul in his commitment to evangelization. By the power of God, Jesus addressed the needs of his day; by the power of the same God, Paul addressed the needs of his. Now it is our turn. We are the disciples who must bring the good news to the brokenhearted, to those who are enslaved, to those who are weak. We are the ones who will then share in the blessings of this good news.

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