“Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? My days … come to an end without hope” (Job 7:1, 6). At mass today we are confronted with an age-old problem that has faced every generation of human beings: that of what often seems to be the pointless struggle of life. This “drudgery” can take the form of chronic illness, family alienation, economic hardship, or a combination of many subtle factors that add up to a crushing burden.
The Church has actually chosen a rather “mild” passage of Job struggle to cite this Sunday: his life entailed vastly greater suffering than what we hear of in this brief excerpt. Elsewhere those who attend mass and follow the scripture readings encounter some of his graver travails and also hear the great theophany at the end of this long book, when God reveals himself, rebukes Job (and confirms his innocence at the same time) and then restores him to an even greater status and wealth than he enjoyed before his “drudgery” struck.
This is the sort of outcome of our drudgery or suffering that we all would like to experience: that God might swoop in and make it all well, healing us on account of our faith in him. This is what many people long for, and quite understandably: if one is bearing a heavy burden of suffering, it is only natural to hope for relief and restoration here and now. Job had to wait some time before his vindication came about, but it did in fact come about. The Psalmist reflects the sentiment of those who find such consolation in the present life, exclaiming: “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted” (Ps 147:3a).
When, however, our drudgery is not healed when we pray for relief, or our time of suffering seems to come “to an end without hope” as Job said, then we are left wondering where God is, just as Job did in the early days of his straits. Sometimes the joy of recovery and healing never arrives, and life for these people becomes like an eternal Holy Saturday—waiting for God, and waiting for a new dawn of hope, of reconciliation, of mercy, or of justice. This is where we need to turn to the gospel reading and find the message that Jesus brings through his very person and mission which completes the divine response to drudgery and suffering that was partially answered in Job’s day.
In the gospel we see that while Jesus healed many people of afflictions he did not heal all of them: “He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons” (Mark 1:33). He then continued on his way: “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come” (Mark 1:38). This can seem confounding until we see that Jesus did not magically dismiss all suffering from human life, rather, he took suffering upon himself, even the ultimate suffering of death, and he did so for our sake, so that by joining together with him in baptism and in all the suffering of the present life we may have the hope of being united with him just as surely in his resurrection.
Jesus doesn’t make suffering go away—he, God, feels its sting himself. This is something that Job could not have fathomed and many people today find unbelievable. But one who truly loves another is capable of enduring even grave suffering for the sake of the beloved. Let us rejoice today that our God loves us so much “that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). That is a true cause for rejoicing, and finding a deeper point in our daily sufferings.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Image: Job Mocked By His Wife, by French Baroque painter Georges de La Tour (1593-1652)