Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 7, 2021)

Amazing. Jesus continues the proclamation of the kingdom of God. Everything about him is part of the proclamation. Today in the passage from Mark’s Gospel, we first hear of Jesus’ cure of Simon’s mother-in-law, who ill with fever. Jesus grasps her hand and the fever leaves her.

Then we hear that the whole town gathers at the door of where he was staying: “He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons.” After this, we hear of Jesus leaving the town to go to a “deserted” place to find time and space to pray. Finally, the disciples search for him, saying: “Everyone is looking for you.” He replies: “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.”

As we continue to encounter Jesus once again in the Gospel, we see his saving activity manifest in these healings. The miracles manifest, once again, God’s compassion on those who are suffering.

In the first reading, taken from The Book of Job, Job laments on his own suffering. You may recall earlier in the narrative Job is described as a good and righteous man. His life is turned upside down as Satan inflicts incredible sufferings on him in an attempt to have him curse God. Job refuses, yet he recognizes the terrible pain he is enduring. He says: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” He is destitute. He describes the torment as a sleepless night filled “with restlessness until the dawn.”

The image is an apt way to describe the sense of hopelessness that sometimes comes with suffering. Many people can relate to this these days. In the past few weeks there have been several news articles on sleeplessness related to the pandemic.

While the image may be taken literally, it also applies to anyone who suffers. Suffering is part of the human condition. Sometimes we may feel alone in that suffering, but when we look around us we soon realize that we are not alone. Many suffer.

The longing for healing is real and present. God’s compassion for the sick, the possessed, the disenfranchised, the brokenhearted, the distressed, the frustrated, the wounded, the hopeless, the isolated, the poor, the hungry, indeed anyone who suffers, is manifest over and over again in God’s covenant with Israel, which reaches its fulfillment in Christ Jesus.

The responsorial psalm helps us recall God’s compassion and healing power. Through it, we can be renewed in hope for deliverance as we respond: “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.”

The psalm extols the greatness of God. His power to heal can restore man-made disasters (such as war, as indicated in the reference to rebuilding Jerusalem), along with less defined conditions such as a broken heart. God is the creator of all. He knows all the stars by their name as well as their number. There is no limit to his wisdom and might. It is this God who “sustains the lowly” through his compassion and love.

The proclamation of the kingdom of God includes a new awareness of God’s compassion. His rule is one that embraces human suffering not only through compassion but experience as well. Jesus, the Son of God, takes on human suffering in his own life, ultimately experiencing it in his passion and death. His faithfulness sees this mission to its end through death to resurrection.

Jesus’ trust, confidence and reliance on the Father is nourished through prayer. One might say his compassion and proclamation are strengthened through prayer. We see that relationship in today’s Gospel passage when he goes off to a deserted place to pray. In that place he is renewed, strengthened and fortified to continue the proclamation. Notice that his response is immediate when Simon Peter calls on him.

As members of the body of Christ, we have a share in this mission. We not only recognize God’s compassion for us but are called to a like compassion for others. St. Paul is an example. He reflects on the mission in today’s second reading, taken from his First Letter to the Corinthians. He reflects on his preaching of the Gospel. The Gospel and its proclamation, in other words, the kingdom of God, is everything to him. It is his life.

Hence he is compelled to share this “good news” with others — so much so that he can say: “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.”

The one-year mark of the pandemic is approaching, if indeed not already here. Reflecting on this past year, we see human suffering in so many ways. Sickness and death, restrictions and isolation, frustration and anger, confusion and doubt, rage and violence are just some of the ways human suffering is manifested. Today, we are invited to be amazed at the saving activity of God in Christ Jesus. Through him, we are reminded that God is compassion and love. He is the one who will always “heal the brokenhearted.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.