Does our first reading from the book of Job strike a chord with you? How about the first sentence: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” Is there anyone on this earth who does not feel that way about life from time to time? It seems fitting that this reading comes when it does right in the middle of winter, especially after a snowstorm and months of a global pandemic and all the rest. The reading continues with lines like: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. My life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” That sounds pretty depressing!
Scripture has it all: the whole range of human emotion and experience. Job’s story is synonymous with personal tragedy and disaster. Job loses everything: his children, his his herds, his wealth. He ends up covered in boils and sitting in a heap of ashes. Nobody wants to be Job. Even his wife says to him one of the most notorious lines in Scripture: “Curse God and die.” Fortunately he does not take her advice! We only hear a small part of Job’s story in this reading. Even though he sounds like he is on the verge of despair, if we read on we learn that Job does not give up, that he refuses to despair in God and that he remains faithful to Him. And in the end, God rewards him for his fidelity. The book of Job has a happy ending: he gets back everything that he lost and more.
When we are looking at just a brief snapshot of our lives, like the present moment for example, depending on the circumstances we might feel that nothing is going our way, that God has abandoned us, that nothing will ever get better. And it’s true that our lives are not like a Marvel comics movie in which the bad guy is defeated, at least until the next movie comes out, and there’s a happy ending. When we are confronted with the reality of death, which is the end of every life here on earth, it can seem that there is no such thing as a happy ending.
But that’s only if we are looking at just life here on earth. We always have to keep in mind that Jesus Christ came to redeem us from sin AND death. And that there is another life on the other side of death. Which leads us to our Gospel reading, which picks up where last Sunday’s Gospel left off. If you remember, Jesus had cast out a demon from a man, the first time that he had performed this kind of miracle in Mark’s Gospel. In today’s Gospel, Jesus performs his first physical healing: he heals Peter’s mother-in-law, who was bedridden with a fever.
When Jesus healed her, he did so by taking her hand and helping her up. This is what Jesus wants to do with each one of us; that is, if we let him: he wants to take us by the hand and help us to rise from whatever low place we may have sunk to. But for this to happen, we have to let Jesus in: we have to invite him into our hearts and into our lives, just as he was invited into the home of Peter’s mother-in-law. We can’t let Jesus remain waiting outside, keeping him at a distance, making excuses to keep him from getting too close. We have to invite him in. Prayer is the doorway through which Jesus enters. And if we have serious sins in our past that remain unconfessed, the sacrament of reconciliation is another doorway. This is how we invite Jesus in.
And, like Peter’s mother-in-law, when we have that healing encounter with Jesus and are touched by him, what should our response be? The same as hers: she got up and immediately began to serve. We too have to respond by serving the Lord. How do we do that? By serving Jesus whose image is found in one another, especially in those who are most in need.
And that encounter with Christ ought to compel us to go out and share this healing encounter with others. We do that by being a witness of our faith in Christ to others with our actions, but yes, also with our words. We should not be afraid to invite others to come to church with us. Nor should we be afraid to share with others the hope our faith gives us. And the world is very much in need of this hope.
But in order to serve others and to be a witness of our faith to others, we can’t rely on our own powers and abilities alone. Serving and witnessing to others is not the easiest thing to do. In fact, it can be tiring; we risk rejection; we risk being misunderstood. We also have our own human weakness to contend with: we sometimes seek the path of least resistance; we put things off; we can be timid or lazy or become too occupied with the constant demands that life puts on us. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that we follow the example that Jesus gives us in this Gospel.
We are told that Jesus rose early the next morning and went off by himself to a deserted place to pray. Jesus after all was a human being just like us, and He too needed to draw strength from his Heavenly Father. If Jesus Himself needed to pray, and took time to pray, despite how busy he no doubt was, then how can we do any differently? Why would we think that prayer is not necessary for us? Why would we think that we need to pray only on those days when we can “fit it in”? How much more are we in need of that daily prayer time with the Lord? If we think otherwise or think we can make any kind of spiritual progress without it, we are only deceiving ourselves. We ought to follow Jesus’ example, and rise early if necessary to pray, before the day gets too busy and gets away from us. We ought to withdraw from the busy-ness of life, and even seek a quiet place by ourselves for a few minutes, in order to have that personal time with God. This is vital for our spiritual health, and in order to have the strength to serve others as the Lord desires.
It sounds, however, like Jesus was interrupted in prayer, despite his efforts to “get away”. Sometimes people will interrupt our prayer time as well. However, Jesus’ response to this reflects what I think is a sense of urgency: He says to Peter and his disciples, “Let us go on to the nearby villages, that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Jesus is compelled to keep going. There are other towns and villages that need to hear the Good News of salvation, to have that encounter with Jesus.
St. Paul likewise writes to the Corinthians about the urgency of his mission. “An obligation has been imposed on me,” he says, “and woe to me if I do not preach it!” Paul feels compelled to share what he has received, his own encounter with Christ, again and again, always pushing onward to reach other communities so that they too may hear this Good News.
There is indeed an urgency to our mission to share our faith with others, because the world is in such need of it. Without faith in God, what is there? Without faith, we are ultimately left with what Job laments over: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” Perhaps for a time we can divert ourselves from the uncomfortable reality of human suffering, but sooner or later we will have to confront the fact that life without God is meaningless and empty. There are so many people who live without hope, trying to stay entertained, trying to keep their attention diverted, trying to numb the pain and the suffering that can be found in every life with unhealthy things like pornography, drugs, alcohol and gambling addictions. The world is in need of the Good News.
But all this presupposes that we too are open to it. So again, let us go back to Jesus’ encounter with the mother-in-law of Peter. Before he healed her, he first entered her home. Open the door to your heart to Jesus Christ. Open to him all your thoughts, feelings, and desires, the good and the bad. Surrender everything to him. Let him in so that he might heal you, and then share with others what He has done for you.