5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

   JB 7:1-4, 6-7 / PS 147: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 / 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23 / MK 1:29-39

     I dare say today’s first reading comes from the most depressing book in the bible. The book of Job narrates the story of the prophet Job, a just and loving man, who, lost everything overnight. In just one day all of his wealth and cattle were destroyed or stolen, all ten of his children were killed when his house collapsed, he was plagued with some kind of disease that covered him with boils and sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head, his own wife turned against him. At last, left with nothing, he went out and sat on a dung-heap, scraping his sores with a piece of pottery. Sitting in pain Job raised his eyes to heaven and asked, what he did to deserve this suffering. If we contrast the story of Job with today’s gospel where Jesus heals the sick and casts out demons it can be easy for us to think that Job must have done something very wrong and God was punishing him, but nothing could be further from the truth.

     We must never think that any suffering, disaster, or misfortune that comes our way, is a punishment from God for our personal sin. If suffering was God’s punishment for personal sin, Jesus, God who became man and never sinned, would not have experienced suffering. Yet we need to look no further than the crucifix to see that He suffered more than most of us ever will. Certainly suffering is due to sin in general, but God never punishes us for committing a specific sin by bringing disaster into our life, just as He does not bless our good actions with financial gain. There are certainly natural consequences for our actions. If I go out and gamble away all of my money, I may find myself knee deep in debt and living on the streets and if I work hard I may find myself having financial success, but in both of these cases my fate is a consequence only of my actions and not a punishment or reward from God. We all know that at times in this life we will have to endure suffering and we can often be tempted to ask ourselves why does God permit this suffering, didn’t He come to heal the sick and cure the wounds of sin and division?

     Jesus did not come into this world to simply make us healthy, wealthy and wise. No, He came to preach the good news of the kingdom of heaven and to raise us up to eternal life. It is interesting to note that the Greek word St. Mark uses in today’s gospel to describe the raising of St. Peter’s mother-in-law, is the same word he uses to describe the raising of Jesus from the dead.[1] In curing the sick and casting out demons, Our Lord shows us His purpose for coming to earth is to raise us up to eternal life. It is because God sent His only Son into the world to raise us up to Him that, even in our misery, we can say today with the psalmist “praise the Lord who heals the brokenhearted.”

     Jesus came into this world and freely took on our suffering to raise us up to eternal life. While God certainly has the power to remove all suffering from our life, in fact that was His plan before the sin of Adam and Eve, but if He removed suffering from our world, He would take away our ability to choose, which would also take away our ability to love Him and others, so God did the next best thing, He made suffering the means of our salvation. “Christ took our painful condition and made of it the way of true life.”[2] While we can often fall into the trap of believing that suffering is a bad thing, our Lord has transformed suffering into the means of our salvation for the fact that God allowed His son to die “shows two things very clearly. The first is that suffering and even total ruin do not signify a lack of love on the part of the Father. The second is that suffering is not in vain; it bears fruit and has redeeming power.”[3]

     Our Lord takes the sufferings we face in this world and uses them to give us opportunities to participate with His grace in our own salvation and the salvation of others in the Church. “Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering we learn who is our true friend.”[4] Suffering, when offered up in faith to God purifies our own soul and provides us the opportunity to offer up its merits for the health of the Body of Christ. Why not begin our day with a morning offering, where we offer to God all the joys and sufferings of our day and when suffering comes our way, why don’t we offer it to the Lord, asking Him to make it meritorious for you or another soul suffering in purgatory?

     You see “ultimately, far from ruining Christian hope, suffering is advantageous for it; it is even necessary. Without it, hope would be vague, an ill-defined yearning for happiness.”[5] It is only because we suffer that we can hold out hope for eternal life for in suffering we imitate God who “is a sufferer because he is a lover; the entire theme of the suffering God flows from that of the loving God and always points back to it.”[6] Since God came into this world to suffer for us we need to follow His example and suffer for others. It was Christ’s suffering that lead to His resurrection. Why should it be any different for us? When suffering comes into our life we must turn to the Lord and ask Him to give us the grace to endure that suffering.

     We should never forget that while the story of Job is dark and dreary it ends with Job receiving back all that he lost a hundred times over. God has taken the evil of human suffering and through His own suffering, transformed it into an opportunity to use it for the good and thus our “likeness to Jesus must be through suffering and humility.”[7] When we faithfully endure the sufferings of this life we can know that the good things of our life will be returned one hundredfold as we enter into the kingdom of heaven. So when we find ourselves in suffering why don’t we invite the Father to use that suffering to raise us up, just as he raised up Jesus from the dead.

[1] See Mk1:31 and Mk 16:6

[2] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 20.

[3] Wilfrid Stinssen. Into Your Hands, Father Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us. San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2011. pg 15

[4] St. Faustina Kowalska. Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge:Marian Press. (2011). pg 153.

[5] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 57.

[6] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Behold The Pierced One. San Francisco: Ignatius. (1986) pg 33.

[7] St. Faustina Kowalska. Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge:Marian Press. (2011). pg 129.

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