Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

By Father Paul Nord, O.S.B.

Sunday Scripture

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

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

Our first reading today is from the Book of Job, a profound text. Job struggles with some of the most essential questions of human existence: Why does the good man suffer? Why does God – who is all good and all powerful – allow suffering? Men and women have asked these questions from the beginning of time. These questions become especially urgent when we ourselves are suffering, or when we personally know an innocent person who is suffering.

The text describes Job as a deeply virtuous man – “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1). Job has every earthly blessing – a wife, many sons and daughters, and material prosperity. Further, Job would rise early in the morning and offer sacrifices to God to atone for any sins that his children may have committed – even if unknown to him (1:5). 

But a mysterious character called “the satan” – “the adversary/accuser” – enters the narrative. True to his name, the satan accuses Job of being virtuous only because Job has so many blessings from God. The satan tells God that Job “will curse you to your face” (Job 1:11) if he loses his many blessings.

And so “the LORD said to the satan, ‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on him’” (Job 1:12). This verse might make us feel uncomfortable or confused. Why would God allow this “adversary” to cause Job harm? It is especially hard to explain the death of Job’s sons and daughters (Job 1:19). Job’s wife shares this terrible grief, although she herself survives.

Job tries to explain this terrible misfortune to himself, by saying: “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!” (Job 1:21). This feels empty, to note that Job only loses what he received as a gift from God. Job the just man is seemingly even making excuses for God – still insisting on God’s goodness. But Job also has great angst – he “tore his cloak and cut off his hair.” Despite this, Job does not sin. Job does not accuse God of wrongdoing. Job thus contrasts with “the satan” – the accuser. Later, the satan is even allowed to inflict Job with great physical suffering, but still Job refuses to accuse God of wrongdoing (Job 2:1-10).

Job endures this great physical suffering for a full week. When Job finally speaks, he does not accuse God, but he does wish that God had never given him life itself (Job 3). In Job 4–5, his friend Eliphaz tried to convince Job to repent, even if Job is unaware of any sin committed. Eliphaz is convinced that Job’s great suffering must be a consequence of his sin. But Job believes his suffering is not caused by any specific sin that he has done. 

Today’s reading comes from Job 7. Since Job is not convinced by Eliphaz’s argument that all suffering is a consequence of sin, he decides to take his abject sorrow directly to God. Job speaks directly to God when he says: “Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again” (7:7). Job continues: “The eye that now sees me shall no more behold me; when your eye is on me, I shall be gone” (7:8). Also: “Why have you made me your target? ... Why do you not pardon my offense?” (Job 7:20-21). Job laments his suffering before God – hoping in God’s justice. When we suffer – or when our loved ones suffer – we can adopt Job’s words as our own in prayer. We trust that God’s goodness will triumph in the end.

Next is 1 Corinthians. Paul sees his proclamation of the gospel as an obligation – something entrusted to him, as a steward. Paul twice speaks of his “recompense” – wages for labor completed. Proclaiming the Gospel is a labor for Paul, but Paul has chosen to not expect any kind of payment for his labor. This is the logic of Paul’s declaration: “I have made myself a slave to all” (9:19). Paul is laboring for no pay. He does this so as “to win over as many as possible” (9:19) to the Gospel.

Paul recognizes that God will give him a recompense if he willingly proclaims the Gospel because “I have been entrusted with a stewardship” (9:17). Paul describes his willingness to adjust his words and actions so that the gospel may be received by many: “To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all.” Paul’s humility motivates him to make every effort so that Christ’s Gospel may be received by many.

Mark’s first chapter provides our Gospel readings for the Third, Fourth, Fifth (today), and Sixth Sundays of Ordinary Time this year (B). Jesus begins his public ministry with vigorous action: he proclaims that the kingdom of God is at hand (1:15), Jesus calls his first disciples (1:16-20), Jesus teaches in the Capernaum synagogue and casts an unclean spirit out of a man (1:21-28). That brings us to today’s Gospel, where Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law as he exits the synagogue (1:29-31). Jesus’ actions demonstrate the truth of his announcement that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (1:15). When Jesus heals and casts out of evil spirits, he shows that God’s rule has arrived.

The result of Jesus’ powerful deeds is that the people brought to Jesus “all who were ill or possessed by demons” (1:32) – a large crowd indeed! They wait until “after sunset” – which is when the Sabbath (1:21) would have ended. The prohibition against work on the Sabbath likely prevented bringing the ill and possessed sooner. After curing many sick people and driving out many demons, Jesus tries to quietly escape early the next morning. But word of Jesus’ healings had continued to spread, and so Jesus continued to go “into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee” (1:39). Jesus proclaims God’s kingdom in all these villages, because “for this purpose have I come” (1:38).