Fifth Sunday In Ordinary Time
The first reading for this Sunday is an excerpt from the Book of Job. Like so much of the Old and New Testament, we are not reading a biography or history of a man named Job. Instead, we are reading a long debate attempting to solve a problem which cannot be solved entirely in this world – Why do good people suffer? In the mind and memory of Christians, the virtue of patience is often associated with Job. The first two chapters set the stage and the plot for the debate which lasts from chapters 3-37. At that point, in chapters 38-41, God takes over. He confronts Job with a series of unanswerable questions browbeating him into humble submission. In the final chapter, (42), Job knows he lost his arguments with God, which were part of the debate. He humbly admits that God can do whatever he wants. From now on, replies Job to God, “I will just ask questions and you can answer them for me. I have heard about you, but now I have actually seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Then Job gets everything back that he had lost in the first two chapters. But this is no solution to the question of why good people suffer. The New Testament has better ideas. See Colossians 1:24 and Romans 8:17-18. The excerpt from Job which the liturgy gives us today is as depressing as parts of the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes. In this excerpt, Job calls life on earth a drudgery, like the work of a hired hand who has no interest in his work. Months of misery, sleepless nights! While the night drags on, old age strikes before one knows it. No hope, and “I shall not see happiness again.” Difficult to fit this into a theme of today’s gospel, other than the fact that Jesus heals – thus giving hope. The Responsorial Psalm, (147) also restores the hope we lost after hearing the first reading, “The Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
The second reading continues the Sunday series of selections from 1 Corinthians. This selection centers on Paul himself. He defends himself and his God-given ministry against implied attacks from the critics who were constantly hounding his footsteps. There is warning for homilists of all time, “A curse on me if I do not preach the gospel!” After stating that he has no reason to boast, he engages in some of his not infrequent boasting. He boasts that he preaches the gospel free of charge. He was a tent and sail maker and repaired both. Thus he sometimes settled down near a seaport. Seems he also picked up some sailor-language in the process. His at times coarse humanity makes him all the more lovable. What a Mensch! The lovable boasting continues: “I have made myself a slave to all, to win over as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I became all things to all, to save at least some.”
Last Sunday we accompanied Jesus into the synagogue next to the home of the Johnson brothers, Simon (Peter) and Andrew, sons of John. There Jesus “taught with authority” by ridding a man of demon possession. Today Jesus exits the synagogue and returns to the Johnson home. This home also became Jesus’ mission headquarters in Galilee. In this large multi-family home Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. In those days, any sickness was thought to be caused by demonic forces. Therefore when Jesus cures her of her sickness, he continues the struggle against evil which he began in the synagogue next door. His action in this “exorcism” is without words. “He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.” Mark certifies the success of the exorcism, “Then the fever left her, and she waited on them.” We assume that she prepared a Sabbath dinner of gefuellte fisch which all could enjoy after returning from the synagogue.
Someone without any sense of history might ask, “How can the first Pope have a mother-in-law?” Simon Peter had no idea he was the pope. Only from the sixth century on was this title reserved more or less to the bishop of Rome. As for having a mother-in-law, the normal way to acquire one, marriage to a woman’s daughter. Next question, “Did the cardinals who elected him know that he had a wife?” Answer: no cardinals officially called such until the eighth century. Nor were any cardinals participating in papal elections until the eighth century. For those interested in such matters, Simon Peter was accompanied by his wife in his mission travels. Paul writes defensively in 1 Corinthians 9:5, of himself and Barnabas his mission associate, “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife like the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” Who is Cephas? The Aramaic form of the Greek name Petros, that is, Peter (Rock). In his letters, Paul refers to Peter eight times in the Aramaic form. He calls him Petros only twice. One may conclude that when these two men held meetings, they spoke Aramaic.
There are two more parts of today’s gospel. Being a faithful and devout Jew, Jesus waited until the end of the Sabbath (sundown) to resume his healing activities. This was early in his career.
Later on, he did heal on the Sabbath. People brought their sick of all kinds to the Johnson home – to the courtyard. Among them were those possessed by demons. Jesus cured all. Just as in his first exorcism in the synagogue next door, here too he would not accept publicity, “not permit-ting them to speak because they knew who he was.” Jesus gets up early the next morning, goes out into the country and prays. Simon, a practical and successful businessman, does not consider Jesus’ disappearance to make good business sense. He and companions pursue Jesus to bring him back to the city. Simon had much to learn before he could be in charge of Jesus’ new “business.” Later in the gospel Jesus will correct Simon angrily and harshly. Here he does it gently, “Let’s go to nearby villages to preach there because that is why I came here.”