5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Psalm 147:1-6
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
Mark 1:29-39

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God reveals His divine plan for humanity in the two Testaments, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Healing the Brokenhearted
Sacred Scripture often addresses the problems of pain and suffering.  Suffering is part of the human condition, and the writers of Scripture offer, through God's inspiration, consoling insights that help us cope with physical and emotional pain, suffering, and loss.  Human suffering is a consequence of evil in the world.  God did not create evil (Wis 1:13-14; 2:23-24), but if God is the source of all that is good, how can evil exist?  Evil is the absence of good in the same way darkness is the absence of light.  The Book of Genesis shows us that all God creates is good in itself (repeated seven times in Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 19, 21, 25, 31).  God created a perfect, though finite, world; but to create a perfect people, God had to allow man the freedom necessary to love.  Love is the greatest expression of human good.  Without love, the world God created would be less than perfect, and without human freedom, there can be no love (CCC 1604).  However, with this freedom comes the possibility of sin, and sin generates suffering, pain, and death.  God did not create evil, but He allowed it as a consequence of Adam's free-will decision to rebel against the goodness of God.  Adam made the choice to decide for himself what was good and what was evil (Gen 3:1-7; CCC 412, 396), bringing about a human tragedy that made the world less than God had made it. 

Suffering is one of the themes in the Book of Job (the First Reading) where the inspired writer tires to approach the mystery of suffering.  The Book of Job offers no solution to suffering except that all suffering is temporary while our eternal condition is in the hands of our Lord.  God promises to heal all sufferings when He gathers the faithful into their final, eternal home, as we sing in today's psalm.

In the Responsorial Psalm, we sing: "Praise the LORD who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds."  The psalmist begins with a call to praise God for His goodness.  He is the Creator who made the stars, lifts up the downtrodden, and judges the wicked.  Those who receive God's mercy are those who trust in the Lord's wisdom and not in their efforts or merits.  For Christians, the psalm invites us to praise God not only because He was the Savior and Provider of His people Israel in the past, but because, in His mercy and love, He has made Himself present among mankind through the Incarnate Christ—the Word made flesh. 

St. Paul's life was an example of suffering for the sake of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  In the Second Reading, St. Paul confesses that he was compelled to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it was his divine calling.  He asked for no reward for his service in the hopes that the additional sacrifice would make his divine reward that much greater in the Kingdom of Heaven.

St. Mark's message from Christ in the Gospel Reading is as relevant to us today as it was to the Jews of the 1st century AD.  Repent, believe in the Gospel, and offer yourself to Jesus for spiritual healing.  Then, commit yourself to Christ and serve Him as Your Lord and Savior.  God the Son came into the world to free mankind from slavery to sin and death.  Our suffering becomes His suffering when we unite ourselves to Him and the pain He bore in His humanity:  both the emotional pain in the betrayal of His people and the physical pain He suffered in His Passion.  Jesus suffered that mankind might be redeemed, and He promises that our sufferings, as a result of sin in the world, will have value (Rom 8:17; CCC 1460).  Jesus rescued from sin and death, and He will take the faithful who have suffered into Heaven where there is only love and eternal beatitude in the presence of the Most Holy Trinity. 

The First Reading Job 7:1-4, 6-7 ~ Life is Painful and Fleeting
1 Job spoke, saying: Is not man's life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of a hireling?  2 He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages.  3 So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights heave been allotted to me.  4 If in bed I say, "When shall I arise?" then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. 
6 My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle; they come to an end without hope.  7 Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.

Job's description of the sufferings of human existence recalls divine judgment in the Fall of Adam that had its impact on all Adam's descendants (Gen 3:17-19).  Job describes life as a desperate struggle in which man lives like a slave who suffers in being unable to find shade/rest from the scorching sun and a hired man who barely makes enough to live.  He knows that life is brief, and at this point in Job's story, his suffering makes him believe he can never be happy again (verse 6). 

Such is the plight of the world resulting from the corruption of original sin (CCC 215, 390, 397-98, 404, 412) and personal sin (CCC 1852, 1868).  No one can escape the struggle that makes the life of every human a battle against sin:  "The whole of man's history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day.  Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield, man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God's grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity" (Gaudium et spes, 37; CCC 409). 

Job's experience was the human condition before the Incarnation of the Christ.  There was no hope of Heaven since the Fall of Adam closed Heaven, and death consigned all humans to the abode of the dead, Sheol in Hebrew (CCC 536, 633).  However, with the baptism of the Redeemer-Messiah, St. Mark dramatically describes Heaven as "torn open" (Mk 1:10; CCC 1026).  In Christ, humanity received the hope of eternal life and the promise that those who suffer because of injustice in the world will receive God's mercy and justice.

Responsorial Psalm 147:1-6 ~ The LORD is the Healer of the Brokenhearted
The response is: "Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted."

1 Praise the LORD, for he is good; sing praise to our God, for he is gracious; it is fitting to praise him.  2 The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem; the dispersed of Israel he gathers.
Response:
3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.  4 He tells the number of the stars; he calls each by name.
Response:
5 Great is our LORD and mighty in power; to his wisdom there is no limit.  6 The LORD sustains the lowly; the wicked he casts to the ground.
Response:

The psalmist begins with a call to praise God for His goodness (verse 1).  He has gathered up His people, Israel, from exile.  He has led them to rebuild Jerusalem.  He has healed the brokenhearted and has bound their wounds (verses 2-3).  He is the Creator who made the stars, lifts up the downtrodden, and judges the wicked (verses 4-6).  Those who receive God's mercy are those who trust in the Lord's wisdom and not in their efforts or merits (verse 5).  For Christians, the psalm invites us to praise God not only because He was the Savior and Provider of His people Israel in the past, but because, in His mercy and love, He has made Himself present among humanity through the Incarnate Christ—the Word made flesh.  He is present to mankind in the Eucharist and the other Sacraments, healing, consoling, and saving us until the end of time.

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 ~ All Things for the Gospel
Brothers and sisters: 16 If I preach the gospel, this is not reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!  17 If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with stewardship.  18 What then is my recompense?  That, when I preach, I offer the gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.  19 Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. [...] 22 To the weak, become weak, to win over the weak.  I have become all things to all, to save at least some.  23 All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.

St. Paul confesses that he felt compelled to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ; he knew it was his divine calling.  In doing so, he asked for no reward, even though he could have expected it since Jesus told His disciples: the laborer deserves his payment (Lk 10:7).  But Paul did not make use of just compensation for preaching the Gospel.  He earned his living by tent-making (Acts 18:3; 1 Cor 4:12; 2 Cor 12:13; 1 Thes 2:9; 2 Thes 3:8-9) in the hopes that the additional sacrifice would make his divine reward that much greater in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Like St. Paul, all Christians are called to serve as Jesus' apostles (through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation), to preach the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of salvation.  In his preaching, Paul says he was compelled to become all things to those to whom he preached so he might better connect with those who heard him and to increase their openness to his message.   St. Josemaria Escriva wrote: "He must become all things to all men in order to save all men" (Christ Is Passing By, 14).  Vatican II defined what this apostolate involves: "The witness of life, however, is not the sole element in the apostolate; the true apostle is on lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers to draw them towards the faith, or to the faithful to instruct them, strengthen them, incite them to a more fruitful life; 'for Christ's love urges us on' (2 Cor 5:14) and in the hearts of all should the Apostle's words find echo: 'Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel' (1 Cor 9:16)" (Apostolicom actuositatem, 6).

The Gospel of Mark 1:29-39 ~ Jesus the Healer of the Suffering
29 [And immediately = kai euthus] On leaving the synagogue he entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.  30 Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately [euthus] told him about her.  31 He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.  Then [immediately = euthus] the fever left her and she waited on them.  32 When it was evening, after sunset, they brought him all who were ill or possessed by demons.  33 The whole town was gathered at the door.  34 He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him. 35 Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.  36 Simon and those who were with him pursued him 37 and on finding him said, "Everyone is looking for you."  38 He told them, "Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.  For this purpose have I come."  39 So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee. 
[...] = literal Greek translation, Interlinear Bible Greek-English, vol. IV, page 95.

Jesus made Capernaum and Simon-Peter's house His ministry headquarters.  St. Mark uses his favorite word, "euthus," three times within three verses.  It is an adverb which means "immediately," "at once," or "now" and expresses Mark's call for his readers to immediately respond to Jesus' Gospel message.  Mark uses the adverb 47 times in his 675 verses.  Also, notice that Jesus' acts of mercy were not limited to public miracles.  In this touching little story about healing Simon-Peter's mother-in-law, there is a message for all who profess to be Jesus' disciples.   Peter's mother-in-law set an example for us in expressing her gratitude when she immediately rose from her sick-bed and "waited on" Jesus and His disciples.  The lesson for us is that our actions should demonstrate our love for the Lord and our gratitude for His blessings.

We learn in verse 32 that it wasn't until after sunset that the townspeople brought their sick to Jesus for healing.  The narrative begins on a Sabbath (Mk 1:21), the day of rest.  The Sabbath rest did not inhibit Jesus from healing Simon-Peter's mother, but the strict interpretation of the Sabbath laws by the Pharisees did inhibit the people from what could be interpreted as "work" on the Sabbath by bringing family members to Jesus.  Therefore, the people waited until sundown when it became the next day.  Healing on the Sabbath will become an issue of contention between Jesus and the Pharisees.

Jesus healed many people, and He cast out demons that He immediately silenced, refusing to let them reveal His true identity (see Mk 1:23-26).  The demon spirits knew Jesus' true identity and feared Him, recognizing His divine power (verse 34).  Demons are spiritual beings who are the fallen angels.  They were created by God to be good; however, through their own free will choice, they became evil by rebelling against God and following Satan who was himself once an angel (see Rev 12:7-9 and CCC 391-95).  The testimony of demons is not the kind of witness Jesus wants to His true identity, and it is necessary for His identity as the divine Messiah to be revealed slowly through His miracles and His teaching. 

In verse 35, we read that Jesus rose before dawn and withdrew alone to pray. Jesus' action raises the question: if Jesus felt it was necessary to devote time to private prayer, shouldn't we do the same?  All the Gospels record that several times Jesus withdrew from His disciples for private prayer.  However, the crowds of people continued looking for Him.  Sympathetic to the people's needs, Simon-Peter went to find Jesus (verses 36-37).  In verse 38, Jesus agrees to return and gives the reason for His mission.  He came to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to the children of Israel.  It is the same fulfillment statement St. Mark made in 1:14-15, After John had been arrested, Jesus came to the Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God saying: "This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe the Gospel."

Jesus' message is as relevant to us today as it was to the Jews of the 1st century AD.  Repent, believe in the Gospel, and offer yourself to Jesus for spiritual healing.  Then, commit yourself to Christ and let Him raise you up to new life.  The Greek verb for the "raising" of Peter's mother-in-law is the same verb Jesus used when He commanded Jarius' daughter to "raise" and return to life (Mk 5:41-42), and it will appear again to describe Jesus' Resurrection (Mk 14:28; 16:7).  Jesus' promises He will "raise up" to new life all those who believe in Him and come to Him in the waters of Christian Baptism and receive Him in the Eucharist (see Jn 6:40, 44, 54; 1 Cor 6:14; 2 Cor 4:14; baptism commanded as necessary for salvation in Mk 16:16).  And for our part, in gratitude, we should respond in serving the Lord like Simon-Peter's mother-in-law and like St. Paul who, despite personal hardships, committed his life to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and suffered martyred for his faith. 

Catechism References:
Job 7:1-4, 6-7 (CCC 1460)
1 Corinthians 9:19 (CCC 876); 9:22 (CCC 24)
Mark 1:32 (CCC 2602)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015; revised 2018