Lectionary #74, Mark 1: 29-39
“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” (Job 7:6-7). These are very strong words, but they were no exaggeration: they were spoken by Job, a man who truly knew the depths of human suffering. Job had experienced the loss of all his property, the death of his children, and even the effects of an insidious disease which robbed him of his health.
He wonders how the tragedy which he was experiencing could befall a man like himself who so joyfully worshipped God and lived in a just and upright manner. In the midst of these sentiments Job asks a question which practically every human being has asked over the millennia: “Why has this happened to me?!” In exploring the meaning of his dilemma Job anticipates the bewilderment of every person who has ever encountered unmerited hardship or trial, things which can move us toward a sense of bitterness and anger with respect to God. The response to this dilemma which the Book of Job eventually provides goes beyond the expectations of Job and reveals a God who is utterly transcendent—and yet who is ever near to those who suffer.
A common misunderstanding of God, and the one held by Job’s friends and would-be counselors, suggests that the Lord rewards good people, and punishes bad people, and that suffering can be attributed to this simple causality. For instance, if one is poor, it can be seen, according to this way of thinking, as requital for laziness; if one is ill, it can be understood as payback for unhealthy living; and if one is betrayed or abandoned by others, it is in return for one’s own betrayals and infidelities. A surprising number of people in our world think in this way, even if they do so unconsciously!
However, when an unexpected tragedy strikes this outlook comes crashing down, and the people who have adopted this way of viewing life tend to lose their faith—for how could God allow something awful to happen to a good person? Job never adopts this facile point of view; in the midst of his suffering he cries out with faith and hope: “As for me, I know that my Vindicator lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the ground. From my flesh I shall see God; my inmost being is consumed with longing. Whom I myself shall see: my own eyes, not another’s, shall behold him” (Job 19:25-27).
In the Gospel of Mark, we see Christ’s response to the suffering of those who come to him—whether they are upright or not in the eyes of society, whether they are rich or poor, lazy or industrious does not matter to him: he heals them, and gives them the possibility of a new beginning in life. For some that healing comes immediately through their restoration and rejuvenation, and for others the healing effected by Jesus will reveal itself only in their final and definitive healing, which comes along with the resurrection.
Job himself points ahead to the future reality of being raised up from his earthly grave to see God face to face. When we confront unexpected and undeserved suffering or difficulties we help to put things in the proper perspective by remembering the kindness of Jesus in healing so many sick and afflicted. We also ought to recall the patience of Job, who knew that life can be brief and challenging, that human woe is not tied to moral or religious standing, and above all that in the one true God whom he worshipped as the Lord of Israel and whom we know as the God of Jesus Christ we have the hope of sharing in Christ’s resurrection and glory if we persevere with him through the passing distress and doubts of this present life.
Father Edward M. Mazich, O.S.B.