February 4, 2024: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel: Mark 1:29-39
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.
When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.” He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
“Human life is a struggle, isn’t it?”
Today’s first reading opens with this verse from Job (paraphrased here), and how many of us read that and just want to shout, “no kidding!”? I’ve felt that deeply at times. According to the Oxford Dictionary, struggle means “a forceful or violent effort to get free of restraint or constriction”.
Yeah, struggle is the right word; pretty apt description of life for so many. And yet, my struggles, while perhaps greater than the struggles of some, are nothing for others. Even so, in that moment of contention with whatever it is, I doubt we spend much time comparison shopping with the person down the street.
In today’s Gospel passage from Mark, Jesus is going about the work of healing, and we’re given the case of Simon’s mother-in-law. A woman responsible for home and family in these days certainly understood struggle without the added burden of compromised health.
Jesus doesn’t seem to hesitate in the least; he takes her by the hand and “raises her up” according to some translations. We read that the very next thing she did was to start serving. One translation says she made dinner for them.
We don’t get the full chapter today, but if we did, we would hear the story of Jesus cleansing a leprous person next; again, he “stretched out his hand, touched him” and the person was healed.
Let’s note here the reaction of Simon’s mother-in-law and the person with leprosy are completely different (the latter simply left the presence of Jesus at once), but Jesus never comments on nor judges either response. They simply went on with life, less one or more struggles.
Anytime I’ve dealt with illness or a struggle, I don’t think I’ve willingly started on the household chores as a next step – or else I did it begrudgingly because it simply had to be done. This is where today’s second reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23) comes in, which I summarize as follows:
I have things to do. Some of them I take on by choice with joy and enthusiasm. Others aren’t much fun, but I honor my responsibilities and try to address them with care. Sometimes, the first happy group of things and the second mundane group of things are the same things.
My outlook (my struggle) just happens to be different at the time. These things are entrusted to me by Divine Love, and participating in these parts of life is reward itself.
My struggles, whatever they are, just need a touch of Jesus. That is the key to true freedom; the struggles may still be there, but with prayer and some time to reflect, as Jesus demonstrates, we can go on. Moreso, we can imitate Jesus, who had his own struggles, and extend a hand of help, comfort, and healing to others in their time of struggle. That simple act may lighten our load, too.
This week, try to find a quiet moment of solitude early in the day to pray and reflect on your circumstances. Consider trying a Morning Examen prayer style – I recommend SacredSpace.com where the first two steps are placing ourselves in God’s Presence and then contemplating this kind of freedom. Then, take a look around throughout your day. To whom can you extend a hand?
End your day after the pattern of the psalmist who says, “Praise [God], who heals the (struggling).”