FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (February 4, 2018)
February is a difficult month. We are between the festive seasons of Christmas and Easter. We walk on the frozen tundra in relative darkness, trying to avoid the flu and the “Febs” bundled in our warmest clothing. Today, the Church presents us with the Book of Job as a beacon of light that leads us toward the light in an atmosphere of gloom.
The book of job is part of “wisdom literature.” Job was the perfect man, honest and true, and he experienced unlimited prosperity. It is the story that the human author weaves about a fictional man from the Land of Uz who never existed, but will always enlighten us as a guide into the mystery of why the innocent suffer. It also teaches the place of possessions in our lives. The Book of Job raises our question: why does God allow the innocent to suffer? Rabbi Harold Kushner used Job’s plight for his classic book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
God leads job toward an attitude of humility. God does not have to justify to job or to us either his actions or his non-interventions in our lives. God is mystery; we cannot comprehend all the whys and wherefores of god. Job ceased questioning when he came face to face with god’s immensity and turned instead to simple faith and trust. Job finally said to God: “I am of little account; what can I answer you? I put my hand over my mouth.” Wisdom! God contents Job with his power and mystery.
Today we are blessed with more than Job’s story, more than what Rabbi Kushner can provide from his Jewish faith-insights in his attempt to answer the question. We Christians recognize Jesus as our Savior. Jesus does not give a final answer to Job’s questions, but does reveal deeper truth to us, and he corrects a faulty perception of gifts.
Jesus also broadens our understanding of suffering. Job’s conclusion, and the conclusion of many even today is that the world’s goods give indication of God’s favor; their absence, a sign of God’s disfavor. Jesus advances this understanding when he tells us that his father allows rain to fall on the good and the bad without discrimination. “Bad things” are not punishment for what we have done. Let us also remember that Jesus did not heal everyone who was sick or raise every dead person to life in his lifetime.
St. Francis de Sales sheds additional spiritual insight in asking, “What goods have we which we have not received; and if we have received, why should we take pride in it? [Intro. Iii, 5]
God will not answer all our requests as we might wish. There is some small consolation when we see Jesus’ undeserved suffering. Even after agonizing prayer to his father asking him to take the cup away, Jesus recognizes and accepts suffering, we hear him speak: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
How can we expect that all our prayers will be answered as we wish? God’s plan is beyond us. Jesus tells us: “I will be with you all days . . .” He will remain with us in the midst of our trials and pain. He promises to send his Spirit, the Consoler. We can count on no more; we can count on no less.
Our anxious moments can be alleviated by a deeper awareness of God’s power, loving presence, and wisdom in our effort to humbly “Live Jesus.” Who of us has not gone through pain and in hindsight not seen personal growth? We are transformed into a more faith-filled, trusting and humble person in our relationship with our Father.