(Ordinary Time – Cycle B)
1 Cor 9, 16-19.22-23
Mk 1, 29-39
The biblical readings of this Sunday make reference to one of the problems that has most tortured man and woman from every time and place: suffering. Scripture does not intend to give an explanation of human pain, but finds itself in the perspective of faith and gratitude before a God that cannot be closed in by narrow limits of human logic and continues to be a unsolvable mystery of life and love, even in the midst of suffering that limits and scandalizes men and women.
The first reading (Job 7,1-4.6-7) is taken from the book of Job, that makes up one of the greatest literary and theological works of humanity. It has as a starting point the disconcerting experience of suffering of a just man, and the book wants to present the mystery of God, unfathomable and transcendent, and the authentic attitude of faith, founded on gratitude and communion. Through the experience of his pain, Job comes to be converted into a model of the believer that loves God without any other interest. He does not accept that God may be explained in light of a scheme of prizes and punishments, like the traditional doctrine of retribution supposed; he remains faithful to God even when he lives the scandal of his innocent suffering and fights untiringly to obtain a word from God’s part to illuminate his situation. The reading that we proclaim this Sunday is a reflection of Job that reveals the intensity of his sorrow. Like the slave, that waits for nightfall to rest from the day’s work, or like the laborer, that is fatigued in getting a salary to meet his needs, Job has also a “salary” made of suffering and without sense: “months of delusion I have assigned to me (different from the laborer), nothing for my own but nights of grief (different from the slave)” (Job 7, 1-3). Afterwards, he adds with bitterness: “Swifter than a weaver’s shuttle my days have passed, and vanished, leaving no hope behind” (Job 7,6), and finally directs himself to God: “Remember that my life is but a breath, and that my eyes will never again see joy” (Job 7,7).
At the end of the book, Job receives a mysterious answer: the Lord makes him see that many cosmic and historical realities escape human comprehension (Job 38-41). It is then when Job comes to accept that he cannot know everything and recognizes that God can be fully accepted even when he does not make himself understood to him completely. The Lord reveals himself to Job as an absolute gratitude and as an irreducible mystery in light of human schemes. Before this superior logic of the divine way of acting, Job discovers himself to be small and without adequate knowledge (Job 40,1-5). It is for this reason, that he becomes quiet and abandons himself before God (Job 42,1-6), demonstrating so that also pain and human suffering can find a framework within this perspective of faith, way beyond that which human logic rejects or considers impossible. Job has experienced a God that he has not been able to understand, but that has revealed himself as the principle of meaning and life in the midst of the absurdity of pain.
The second reading (1 Cor 9,16-19.22.23) insists on the theme of gratitude for the faith: “If I had chosen this work myself, I might have been paid for it, but as I have not, it is a responsibility which has been put into my hands” (1 Cor 9,17). Gratuitously, called to the preaching of the Gospel, Paul realizes his mission with the same generosity and without other interest but announcing the word of salvation to all. As Jesus had said: “You received without charge, give without charge” (Mt 10,8).
The Gospel (Mark 1,29-39) offers us the synthetic narration of a day in the life of Jesus in the village of Capernaum, beside the Lake of Galilee. Mark’s interest is above all Christological. Jesus is presented as model of the “man in solidarity with”, close to men and women’s pain and attentive to their necessities (Mk 1,29-34), and as a model of the man of God, that knows how to withdraw in retreat to contemplate and listen to the Father in solitude and silence (Mk 1,35). In the Gospel account the theme of suffering and pain comes back. The Kingdom of God, that becomes present in the word and words of Jesus, represents the overcoming of all human limitations; the miracles that he performs – anticipating his Easter victory – confirm it: sickness is defeated, evil that enslaves man and woman is conquered, all negativity that oppresses the human condition gives way to make a place for life and joy. The total response that Job could not obtain in the midst of his suffering, Jesus Christ offers to humanity in the Easter event. Death is not final. The resurrection of the Lord is the arrival of the Kingdom in its fullness in the midst of history and the goal to which all humanity journeys at the end of time.
The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (inside the house) helps to understand the logic of the Kingdom as overcoming of evil. The sickness of this woman, described with the known horizontal posture that in the Bible means the beaten down man or woman near death (v. 30: “had gone to bed with fever”), is a symbol of human weakness and decrepitude. Only the saving action of Jesus can help men and women to overcome this limit: “He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up” (v. 31). The verb “to help up” here is a translation from the Greek egeiró, that is the same that Mark uses in his Gospel to speak of Jesus’ resurrection: “he has risen (egeiró), he is not here” (Mk 16,6). Peter’s mother-in-law’s health anticipates the full salvation that God offers to all men and women through Jesus’ resurrection. Her healing is not just physical: “And the fever left her and she began to wait on them (Greek: diakoneó)”. This is the typical verb that is used to speak of Christian serve in the community and with which the ministry of “the deacons” is expressed. Peter’s mother-in-law is the model of the person that has been saved and re-created by Jesus, becoming servant of God and men and women.
The healing of the sick crowd (outside, in the door of the city), demonstrates that the salvation of Christ does not know confines and is not enclosed within the walls of a house or group: “they brought to him all who were sick…the whole town came crowding around the door…he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another; he also cast out many devils…Simon and his companions told him: ‘Everybody’ is looking for you…and he went all through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues”. The salvation of Christ is directed to all humanity. Jesus the Savior in solidarity with all and shares with all the deepest anxieties, suffering and hopes, “so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15,28).
While Job was an emblem of universal suffering, Jesus Christ represents God’s salvation for all humanity. But the human response in front of the paradox and mystery of pain and suffering will always be the same: the journey of faith-trust, that goes beyond the schemes of an easy and consoling religion, and that is not limited to the acceptance of cold truths or theological recipes but that is identified with a total adhesion of the person to God as source of life and love. The Gospel invites us to live with hope and faith before suffering, though many times we may not understand everything. The “not-knowing” is a constitutive part of the authentic experience of God in faith, a living experience of the communion of love that goes beyond all experience and conceptualization.