Fifth Sunday in Ordinary time
The "Oh my God...!" moment
Job 7:1-4, 6-7
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
If you were not depressed after listening to today's first reading you would be forgiven for being so afterwards!
If you have read, or watched or even listened to Douglas Adam's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: a Trilogy in Six Parts" you will recall a robot called Marvin. Marvin - the "Paranoid Android". Job and Marvin have a lot in common. Marvin is profoundly depressed and, because he is so clever, profoundly bored. Job is not bored but is extremely fed up!
In a nutshell, the story of Job reveals an image of the God of the Old Testament which is very unflattering - poles apart from the loving Father of Jesus. Briefly, two of Job's so-called friends have conned God into believing that Job is a very bad man and God is punishing him severely for it. Job, not understanding why he has merited such ill-fortune rails against God in a very vociferous and robust fashion! Eventually, God learns of the injustice which has been heaped upon Job and returns him to health, wealth and good fortune and Job promptly forgives those who have landed him in it.
There are a number of lessons we can take from this story, not least of which is that it is OK to shout at God! The loving Father that we know through Jesus is not going to be offended if you vent your anger at him. It will probably make you feel better though having got it all off your chest. It will no doubt help to get things into perspective and give you a way forward. The image of Basil Fawlty comes to mind beating his car with a tree branch whilst shouting "thank you God, thank you so very, very much….!"
The second reading gives us a rare insight into St Paul's feelings about preaching the Good News. He tells us that he has to do it or he would be punished! Interesting that "Catholic Guilt" goes all the way back to Paul! He redeems himself in the next couple of sentences however when he acknowledges that he has been called to proclaim the kingdom and that it is a responsibility which he is glad to be able to exercise.
We too, through our baptism, are stewards of the Kingdom and so we too have a responsibility to proclaim the good news. If the world does not see Christ today it is because the world does not see Christ in us.
Today's Gospel is a striking cameo of the message Mark has for us. Mark's Gospel is a bit like those old black and white films of the "Keystone Cops" (anyone remember them?). Everyone is running around at great speed chasing each other. Mark's favourite word is "immediately". In the Jerusalem Bible version we listened to today this is translated as "straight" and "straight away".
We are still only in the first chapter but there are a notable number of "firsts" and one significant "last". Put into context, it is only a few days since John the Baptist has been arrested and Jesus takes up the cry of "Repent, the Kingdom of God is at Hand". He travels from the Jordan where John was baptising a few miles south to the northern lakeside town of Capernaum where he recruits his first four disciples, Simon and Andrew, James and John. After preaching in the Synagogue (last week's Gospel) they go "straight" to Simon's house. From now on, Capernaum will become Jesus' base when he is not traveling around.
When they arrive they "straight away" tell Jesus that Simon's mother-in-law is sick. Jesus breaks all first century Jewish taboos by "taking her by the hand". Men did not touch women in those days! Jesus would go on to touch many sick and lame to the disgust of many onlookers.
Some women are put off by what happens next. Simon's mother-in-law gets up and ministers to them. Were first century men so insensitive that they would not let here rest after her illness? The point however is that she would have been profoundly embarrassed and ashamed by not being able to greet guests in this way. Jesus has not only restored her health but restored her dignity also.
In mark's Gospel, Jesus does not have to work hard to get people to come to him, they flock to him for healing and comfort until late at night.
It is after these frenetic events that Jesus has an "Oh my God…!" moment. It is almost as if he had not had time to think about the momentous task he has just embarked upon and suddenly the realisation hits him. He gets up very early and goes to a quiet place (there is no wilderness or desert around Capernaum) to pray. To reflect perhaps on the slowly emerging fact that he had been chosen to be the Messiah - a fact that the demons knew but he was not yet sure. He commanded them to be quite. This snippet of information, alongside telling his disciples to "tell no one" is what is known in Mark as the "Messianic Secret".
The disciples find him and are almost annoyed that he had hidden himself away. There is much to do; even more people are seeking him out. Jesus' response is that they should go to other towns "for that is why he had come"
The last sentence in the reading enshrines the "last" event I spoke of. In Mark's Gospel this is the last time Jesus himself will preach to a crowd of people. He speaks to individuals many times, but never again to many. He is about to commission his disciple to go out and do the preaching!
If we are Jesus 21st century disciples, we are commissioned, we have the responsibility like St Paul, to go out and proclaim the Good News. It may not be easy, you may have to shout at God sometimes, but that is what being a follower of Jesus is all about.