A message of hope

By: By Father Dominic Garramone, OSB

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 8

Job 7:1-4,6-7; Psalm 147:1-2,3-4,5-6; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19,22-23; Mark 1:29-39

On most Sundays, the first reading has been chosen because it is somehow connected to the Gospel, either by subject matter, theme or the principal characters in the passage. Similarly, the responsorial psalm usually follows the Old Testament reading as a kind of commentary or complement. Unfortunately, we don’t always pay attention to the links between the readings, but instead hear them as distinct proclamations, unrelated to each other.

This Sunday, the first reading and the responsorial are carefully linked, although it may not be immediately evident. The verses from Psalm 147 offer a distinct counterpoint to the ideas expressed by Job in the first reading.

In the seventh chapter of the book of Job, the main character is responding to a friend’s suggestion that his sufferings are a punishment for sin. Job protests his innocence and in the verses of today’s readings he asks: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” He compares his life to that of slave, constantly working and yet longing for rest in the shade. Even as he goes to bed, “the night drags on . . . I am filled with restlessness until dawn.”

There is no question that Job here presents an apt description of the common human experience of suffering and anxiety. Anyone who has had a long-term illness, a troubled relationship or a persistent financial problem can recognize the feelings expressed by the phrases “months of misery” and “troubled nights.” And many people have shared Job’s hopelessness expressed in the last line of the passage: “I shall not see happiness again.”

While acknowledging the seriousness and persistence of such feelings, the liturgy also offers an alternative view in the psalm. It truly is a “response” to the reading, reminding the despairing Job that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

And like the author of Job in other passages, the psalm emphasizes God’s power and majesty: “He tells the number of the stars; he calls each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; to his wisdom there is no limit.”

The message of hope here is that the same God who has power over the farthest reaches of the universe is also mindful of our sufferings. The Lord whose wisdom is infinite and unfathomable has a plan for us — mysterious and only gradually revealed, but ultimately leading to our salvation.

The Gospel depicting Jesus healing the sick and casting out evil spirits shows God’s ultimate response to human suffering: the Son of God emptied of his glory and taking the form of a slave; immersed in the pain of his people and sharing it; preaching, teaching and healing all those who seek him.

Father Dominic Garramone, OSB, heads the religion department and serves as drama director at St. Bede Academy in Peru. He is also subprior at St. Bede Abbey.

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