FEBRUARY 4TH, 2018: FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Job spoke, saying:
Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, "When shall I arise?"
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.
Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!
If I do so willingly, I have a recompense,
but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.
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.
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.
To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.
On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.
Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, "Everyone is looking for you."
He told them, "Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come."
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
Biblical fundamentalists have a huge problem when they hear one biblical author disagree with another biblical author. Among other places, that happens both in the bible’s “wisdom debate,” and in today’s three liturgical readings.
The sacred writers who composed our “wisdom literature” – e.g. Proverbs, Sirach, Song of Songs, Job, Wisdom, etc. – clash theologically on the most basic question of wisdom: can we surface patterns of God’s behavior or not? The author of Proverbs says, “Yes.” We need simply look around us and we’ll see God’s patterns in ourselves and nature. On the other hand, the author of Job says, “No.” No matter how carefully we look, we can never find God working logically in our lives.
Today’s passage from Job shows at least one result for searching for a God we’ll never understand. There’s no method to God’s actions, nor a pattern to how God treats us. That means for many, life ends up being a “drudgery.” “My days,” Job reflects, “are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope.” There’s no doubt on which side of the cup “half/full, half/empty” dilemma Job comes down upon.
Yet at least on this point, our Christian sacred authors take their focus from God’s actions and zero in on ours. Today’s passages from Paul and Mark, for instance, tell us striving to be other Christs that we should never just sit back and grade God working in our lives. What are we doing in the meantime?
In both their theologies, the secret to having interesting, exciting lives is to practice “hesed.”
Hesed is a Hebrew biblical term for going beyond what’s expected of us. No one can fault us for doing only what’s necessary. Hesed, on the other hand, is a surprise; a total free action.
Paul, in our I Corinthians pericope, tells us he has “an obligation to preach the gospel.” He has no other choice. It’s how he preaches the good news that provides him with a “recompense” – in two ways. First, though he can expect at least room and board from those he evangelizes, he goes beyond their expectations, “offering the gospel free of charge,” an obvious act of hesed.
Second, nowhere does the risen Jesus insist Paul actually identify with those to whom he proclaims the gospel. Yet beyond everyone’s expectations, the Apostle makes himself “a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all . . . .” Unlike many of us priests and ministers, he becomes one with those to whom he ministers. He’s not just a preacher standing apart from his “audience.”
Jesus amazes his disciples in today’s gospel passage. After his first day of ministry, they presume he’s returning to Capernaum and picking up where he left off the night before. In less than 24 hours, he’s become a local hero. Being members of his inner circle, they’ve already lined up TV and radio interviews and even contacted the local papers.
But he says, “Pack up! We’re leaving town!” He’s planning to travel to other villages and other synagogues, preaching the word to people who probably won’t be as open to the good news as those in Capernaum. As long as he stays put, he’s playing it safe.
No doubt on Good Friday evening those who were anxious to get him to return to town that morning muttered something to the effect, “He went one synagogue too far.”
Had Jesus gone no further than Capernaum, he eventually would have died peacefully in bed, his family and friends around him, but we would never have heard of him, or hesed.