Monday, February 06, 2006

Back where we belong

The lessons for the fifth Sunday in Ordinary time are:

  • Job 7:1-4, 6-7
  • Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
  • First Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
  • Mark 1:29-39
Looking through these lessons, one contrast is apparent, between the first and second lessons. Job and Paul are clearly in different states -- Paul is a man on a mission, a man with a purpose. Job can't find any meaning in his life.
Job spoke, saying:
Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, 'When shall I arise?'
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
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.
Sound a bit too familiar? This is the kind of life many people complain about today. In this story, Job in one day lost both his children and all of his material goods. He has also become afflicted with disease. He has kept his faith in God, even though his wife has lost hers. He is interrogating God as to what meaning there is in the life he is now leading.

We do the same thing, even though we may have family possessionsions galore. We look at all we have, and find no meaning in any of it. Our relationships with other people, and even our relationship with ourselves, seems empty. Job's image of the weaver's shuttle, the piece of wood tthat quickly travels back and forth, carrying the crossing thread to make up the weave, is telling. The shuttle moves quickly, never stopping, but never really gets anywhere. There is no shortage of activity, we are always busy, our lives are crowded, but is does not help. We somehow seem to have missed the point, and something is seriously out of balance. By reading Job, we realize that our situation is nothing new.

What we need is what Jesus is offering the sick and possessed in today's gospel lesson. This lesson is a continuation of the lesson from last week -- This is all the story of Jesus's first day in town, how people initially react to him and how he has established legitimacymacy to preach and heal. Once he heals a possessed man, he moves on to the family of one of his followers:
On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
Consider this along with the other things that Jesus was doing on this first day -- healing the sick and delivering the possessed. In all these cases, it is more than a physhealingliing, the person is restored to their rightful place in their community -- the demoniac is no longer an outcast and Simon's mother in law is able to serve those she loves. It is this restoration of people to the full dignity that God created them with that lies at the heart of these acts of healing. Jesus is bringing us back to where we were intended to be.

We gain meaning in our life from relationship, and we must have this kind of healing, this kind of restoration of relationship to be able to have a life full of meaning. Jesus restores our relationship with ourselves, with others, and with God.

To begin with, many of us do not know who we really are ourselves. We have spent our lives trying to be someone we are not, living a life based on what our surrounding culture is telling us. We simply do not fit inside the life we are trying to live. God calls us by our own true name, something we may have forgotten, and teaches about ourselves, if we are willing to be taught. We are furiously busy throughout our lives, running away from our own emptiness by seeking ever more intense experience or pleasure. We need to stop, and try to listen to the healing word God is already speaking in our hearts. The healing that Jesus brings can restore us to ourselves.

Our relationship to others, perhaps to the whole of society, is also in need of restoration. We will find little meaning in relationships where we see the other person or persons only as a means to the fulfillment of our own desires. Jesus is proclaiming the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God, the time when the greatest law is not written on stone or paper, but within our hearts. This demands that social relationships, from the simplest personal to global socio-political structures are due to be rebuilt. The root of this rebuilding is that engraving of the lalovef ove in our hearts -- Jesus restores our ability to value others as much as ourselves.

Finally, Jesus brings us back into a right relationship with our Creator. The other forms of restoration, no matter how desirable or immediately successful are not enough. Separation from God is the root of our other problems, and no final remedy can be found away from a relationship that is both brand new and what it was intended to be from the beginning. Jesus is only beginning this process of reconciliation in this village -- it will be brought to a climax on the Cross and come to first fruits in the Resurrection. It continues to this very day.

A note about the miracles of healing. It is easy to get fixed on the flashier miracles, or instant healings. They still occurr, and still have the same significance. An extraordinary miracle is a special sign, not that the "laws of nature" have been "violated", but that a greater law above and behind them has overruled them. These signs point us to what God is doing all the time, the ordinary miracles of reconciliation and restoration in lives all around us. God is not a substitute for aspirin or antibiotics. Doctors find curing physical illness much easier than dealing with emotional and spiritual disease -- just ask them. These little miracles, these signs of hope are visible if we wish to see them. They are a sign that the work started in Capernaum continues today.

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