Feb 7, 2015

5th Sunday: Patience is virtuous

Job 7: 1-4, 6-7
1 Cor 9: 16-19, 22-23
Mk 1: 29-39

If you think it takes God a long time to answer your prayers try praying for patience!  In the case of poor Job, our first reading this Sunday, Job has to wrestle with the meaning of suffering. It may be obvious from this book why the expression, “the patience of Job” is often used when we are dealt a particularly heavy problem.  And so it was for Job.

It is not often we hear from this important book and the reading today is a particular downer quite frankly: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? . . . Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” Not the most uplifting to be around such people.  Job might benefit with some compassionate therapy or a mild drug. Yet, to know why Job lamented his condition is no surprise.  

Isn’t it true that God rewards the good and punishes the bad?  Yet, Job was a good and decent man, a model of virtuous living, so it was no surprise that he was also very wealthy and enjoyed all material benefits and advantages which include a wonderful family and marriage.

Despite these apparent “blessings” Job becomes the beneficiary of unbelievable suffering and misfortune. The sign of his wealth: his sheep, cattle and his servants and even his daughters and sons, were all cut down by terrible natural disasters such as lighting strikes and hurricanes.  Yet, in the midst of what might have broken a less tenacious and patient man, Job remains faithful:  “God has given and God takes away. Blessed be the name of Yahweh.”

If that wasn’t enough to endure, Job was afflicted with a form of skin disease, a kind of leprosy, the scourge of ancient times, where his body was covered with boils!  Yuck!  On top of it all, his wife was no help for she had her own concerns.  She advises Job, “Curse God and die!” So, in the end the Book of Job raises all sorts of questions about human suffering and misfortune.

Why do the young die and the old continue? Why do some contract cancer and others seem to bypass a lifetime of such suffering?  Why was your home destroyed in the fire and mine, just next door, was barely singed? Why is a young mother or father suddenly taken from their family while Grandma lives on to a full old age?  There seems such an imbalance of justice and Job becomes a kind of icon of this moral question. In the end, the best we can say in answer to these inconsistencies is: “I don’t know.” 

If you have ever walked in to a situation where great misfortune was thrust upon another such as the sudden death of a young child or the catastrophic results of a natural disaster there is really nothing meaningful we can say – our compassionate presence is all we need “speak.” Like Job, we embrace the mystery of suffering and it is patience and trust in the Lord where we find our sanity and peace.

But, there is beautiful hope in today’s Gospel from Mark.  Jesus walks in to the midst of suffering.  Simon’s mother-in-law (so we know for sure that at least Simon Peter was married) was sick with a fever.  In response to a request from Andrew, James, and John, Jesus comes and immediately heals her.  By evening the word spread this mysterious teacher and healer is in town and Jesus is surrounded by “the whole town gathered at the door,” which implies likely hundreds or so.  Among them are those “possessed by demons” and “many who were sick with various diseases.”  Jesus “cured many” and “drove out many demons.”  In the midst of unexplainable misfortune and human suffering, Christ inserts himself and brings hope and joy.

It supports the belief that suffering is not of God and our bank account or social status or prestigious line or royal ancestors or famous historical figures or especially the most saintly is not a guarantee of any special privilege from the Divine. Job discovers this and although he laments his condition, does not abandon or curse God.  In the end Job is rewarded for his faithfulness and learns a crucial life lesson.

As one source I’ve read remarks: “Christ cares. Christ shares. Christ transforms.” Christ shares in our suffering as the Gospel relates and one look at a crucifix reminds us of his own passion which he did not avoid. So we may indeed view our own personal inconveniences, sufferings, disappointment, misfortunes in any and all forms as redemptive and transforming. Christ did not just express sympathy and walk away.  He entered and shared in our total human experience which includes the mystery of suffering.  Why did Jesus die such a horrific death?  After all he was the most innocent and undeserving of human beings.  Yet he did and by that divine act of self-giving love, he brought hope and salvation to humankind. 

Jesus cares about our lives as he did throughout the Gospel, as the Church provides us the healing and forgiving power of the sacraments, the support and inspiration of a faith community, many opportunities to grow in our spiritual life and Christian service to others, and the privilege to gather weekly with Christ and our brothers and sisters in Word and Sacrament.

So, it is good to pray for patience but it may not come instantly.  In fact it won’t.  As we journey on through life we are offered the grace to patiently endure what comes.  To know in fact that Christ is with us in the midst of our experience and will never abandon us to hopelessness or despair.  May we all have both the faith and the patience of Job. 

For you have given us Jesus Christ, your Son,
as our Lord and Redeemer.
He always showed compassion
for children and for the poor,
for the sick and for sinners,
and he became a neighbor
to the oppressed and the afflicted.

(From Eucharistic Prayer 4 for
various needs)