Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen E. Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - February 7, 2021
On the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Church prays that the Lord will keep us, his family, safe with unfailing care and protection, and the scriptures proclaimed today demonstrates how this happens in the person of Jesus Christ.
Mark’s Gospel, still in the first chapter, continues to tell us about the beginnings of Jesus’ public ministry and how these busy days focused on Jesus’ power for healing, prayer, and motivation. Having proclaimed the inbreaking of God’s kingdom and called the people to repent and believe in the gospel, Jesus gets to work, making it possible for people to respond to his call. He confronts evil powers and acts with compassion for those in need. As vigorously as people look for Jesus, we get the sense that Jesus is also looking for people to bring them God’s care and protection. This was the purpose for Jesus’ coming.
It is very likely that Jesus was aware of and had reflected on the Book of Job because he clearly understood the suffering and hardship that is part of life. Aware of God’s many blessings in the past, Job’s life had been turned upside down. Now, Job only knows months of emptiness and nights of misery. The Book of Job reflects on the problem of suffering that is both physical and spiritual. In the early chapters of the Book, Job struggles to find ways to stay faithful to God in the midst of his suffering (“Is not life on earth a drudgery?”), but he does not despair, and a dozen chapters later, he will get to the point of proclaiming, “I know that my redeemer lives and that in the end, he will stand on the earth.”
The Responsorial Psalm (147) today offers clarification and response to Job. The Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” “The Lord sustains the lowly.” The refrain, “Praise the Lord who heals the brokenhearted,” indicates that Job’s condition is not permanent. Our lives are in the hands of a caring and loving God, despite the sufferings we endure.
In the Gospel today, Mark picks up right where he left off last Sunday, on the same Sabbath day. After leaving the synagogue, Jesus came with his disciples to Simon’s and Andrew’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and Jesus took her by the hand and raised her up. Jesus showed that even on the Sabbath, the holy day of rest, God's power to give life and healing does not rest. Jesus “helped” her up – with the Evangelist using the same word that he will use later to describe how God raised up Jesus from the dead. This is what the “unfailing care and protection” of the Lord looks like. This is the kind of work that God does. God’s powerful and healing love brings life from death. It creates hope out of Job-like pain and despair. It brings home those who are lost. It creates a circle of love and belonging for those who are hurt or alone. It overcomes resentment, guilt, and alienation with forgiveness. It enables those healed to get up and be of service to others as they follow the Lord. This is what Jesus was showing people. It is no wonder everyone was looking for him.
Later that evening, people from all around crowded around the door of the house, and Jesus healed them, whether the cause of their suffering was physical or spiritual. Then, very early the next morning, Jesus got up and left to be by himself, to begin his day with prayer. The prayer was brief because the disciples came looking for him, and when they finally found him, it was time to go because there were more towns and people who needed to hear the saving word and receive God’s care.
We do well to note how Mark's Gospel is clarifying and pointing to the importance of the Christian commitment to bring healing and relief to the suffering. The Gospel lays out the need to care for the sick, comfort those who mourn, engage in acts of kindness and generosity for those in need, and reach out to the isolated.
While we do not possess Jesus’ unique power to heal and to confront the power of death, we are, despite our human frailty, called to share in Christ’s power to heal the brokenhearted. For that reason, we turn once again to our Lord and pray that he will continue to grasp us by the hand and raise us up when we experience pain, suffering, struggle, or doubt. May we continue to receive his strength to serve and follow him, and, borrowing the words of Saint Paul in today’s Second Reading, may we do all things for the sake of the Gospel so that we may have a share in it.