Commentary: 5th Sunday B

First Reading: Job 7:1–4, 6–7

Why does the Church choose this passage from Job?

“Job 7 is one of the most poignant passages in the Old Testament, in my opinion. It’s about suffering. It’s about the fact that life on earth is drudgery and is really difficult. We have short experiences of joy and long stretches of sorrow… And it’s at night that we can really experience our own weakness, our own littleness, and just the reality of human suffering, and human misery in this life. And as a result, we can kind of be more in tune to the fact that, when you really get down to things, our life, as Job says, is just a breath, right. We’re here for a very short while and then we’re gone. ” ~ Dr. Pitre

This passage is connected to today’s Gospel because Jesus is the great healer who has come into this world to touch the misery of human life, to heal even the ordinary illnesses of life, like a fever.

The reality of human suffering in today’s 1st reading prepares us for a response — and Jesus provides it in the Gospel.

Psalm: Psalm 147:1–6

God’s omniscience is clear in verse 4. If He can number the stars and give each star a name, then he knows what you’re going through. He knows about your suffering. He is not ignorant of the misery and drudgery of life.

5Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;

his understanding is beyond measure.

6The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;

he casts the wicked to the ground.

Our responsorial psalm affirms the goodness of God, who has the power to even heal the wounds of our hearts. So if you’re brokenhearted, this Sunday is for you, because you have a God who heals the brokenhearted. And this is the same God who becomes man in Jesus Christ.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16–19, 22–23

“In the second reading Paul follows the Lord’s example as closely as possible.” ~ Balthasar, LW, 167

Gospel: Mark 1:29–39

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.

A mother always wants to be able serve the guests that come to her house.

Some church fathers, like St. Jerome in his book Against Jovinian, suggested here that Peter was in fact a widower by the time of Jesus’ public ministry. And one reason you might infer that from the text is because if it’s in Peter’s house you would actually expect that his wife would act as the hostess for a gathering in the home, and that she would serve the guests, that would’ve been customary at the time. So it’s a bit weird, it’s a bit strange, that in order for Jesus and his companions to be served, Peter’s mother-in-law would need to be made well to help them. So in other words, in a nutshell, what’s missing from the story, what’s conspicuously absent from the story, is any account of Peter’s wife. So that led several of the church fathers to suggest that Peter himself was a widower, that he had been married, but that he was no longer married at the time of Jesus’ public ministry. If that’s true, it’s kind of interesting too, because it shows that Peter himself would’ve tasted sorrow and suffering, the ordinary sorrow and suffering of married life, even before he began the special call to be Jesus’ apostle and the chief of the 12. ~ Dr. Pitre

31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

Jesus is attentive to the ordinary sicknesses we have, to the smaller sufferings of human life, the basic things that we all struggle with.

32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons;

Mark makes a clear and important distinction between a healing miracle and an exorcism. Although contemporary readers of the gospel often want to make the two seem equivalent, they are not.

and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Here we have another case of the Messianic secret. Jesus’ pedagogy is to slowly and steadily reveal his power and identity over time

Some ancient Church fathers claimed that the demons knew Jesus because they were made through Him — the Son of God — and at their own judgment and fall.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

We get an important window into Jesus’ prayer life in this episode from Mark’s Gospel.

We could all learn here from Jesus’ habit of waking up early to pray before the work day began.

36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Jesus’ mission is clear — He was to bring the good news of God’s kingdom to as many people as possible within his appointed area. So he’s going to be bringing the gospel throughout Galilee and then, as we’ll see also, he’s going to go down to Judea in the South and bring it there as well. But he’s not sitting idle. There’s a certain urgency to his mission in the Gospel of Mark. ~ Dr. Pitre

“A true messenger of Christian faith can model himself on Jesus’ tireless effort: even if the total task that lies ahead of him is, from a human perspective, unattainable, nonetheless he will accomplish as much of it as high strength permits, and the remainder will be added either through suffering or at least through an obedient attitude. There is no excuse for him not to do all that lies within his power” ~ Balthasar, LW, 167

Christ the Physician

1503 Christ’s compassion toward the sick and his many healings of every kind of infirmity are a resplendent sign that “God has visited his people” and that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Jesus has the power not only to heal, but also to forgive sins;105 he has come to heal the whole man, soul and body; he is the physician the sick have need of. His compassion toward all who suffer goes so far that he identifies himself with them: “I was sick and you visited me.”107 His preferential love for the sick has not ceased through the centuries to draw the very special attention of Christians toward all those who suffer in body and soul. It is the source of tireless efforts to comfort them. (549; 1421; 2288)

“Christ is a divine physician. He has a special love for the poor and he’s actually present, in a kind of mystical way, in those who are sick or suffering, and that he came into this world in his ministry to heal every kind of infirmity. There is nothing too big or too small for him as part of his ministry. Now you might say well hold on, I know somebody who is sick or maybe I’m sick and Christ hasn’t healed me. What is that about? Well look at paragraph 1505, because the Church continues to say this, it says…” ~ Dr. Pitre

1505 Moved by so much suffering Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” But he did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. On the cross Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the “sin of the world,”113 of which illness is only a consequence. By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion. (440; 307)

Christ’s mission was not to physically heal every single sick person. The healings that did happen were signs of the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God ultimately comes through his supreme victory in his death and resurrection on the cross. It’s only the resurrection that every sickness, every suffering, and all death will be undone. For now, we have to recognize that God allows sickness and suffering to take place, and that for us as Christians, Christ has given a new meaning to our sickness and our suffering, by uniting it to the cross, by uniting it to his passion, so that we can actually, in union with Christ, offer our illness, offer our sufferings, for the salvation of the world in union with his redemptive passion and cross. In other words, Christ’s death and resurrection not only brings the ultimate healing in the future, it also brings meaning to our suffering now in the present as we walk through this valley of tears and we taste the drudgery and the misery that Job talked about in the first reading. In the midst of that misery, in the midst of that suffering, in the midst of that sickness, we have to always remember that Christ is the ultimate victor. Christ is the ultimate savior and that Christ is the divine physician, who one day, whether in this life or the next, will heal us ~ Dr. Pitre

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