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

The approximate date of the composition of the Book of Job cannot be determined. It may have been composed after contact with Persia during the exile in Babylon. Why? Satan is a Persian word for lawyer, a prosecuting attorney, and Satan has a major role in the first two chapters. The book is a timeless piece of work that fits any century. It is not a historical narrative of a real life man named Job. He is a fictitious character. The major part of the work is a debate between Job and some would-be friends. The over-riding theme: Why do good people suffer? Job has suffered great evils. The first two chapters reveal how he got into this situation. There is a staff meeting in heaven. Satan is on the staff, ready to do harm if God permits. God taunts Satan about “my servant Job, blameless, upright, fears God, turns away from evil.” Satan suggests that if Job were not God’s rich pet, he would be cursing God. God more or less says, “I will show you that you are wrong, so let’s try it.” In a series of disasters Job loses his children and his wealth. He responds, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away.” At the next meeting Satan suggests that if God would take away Job’s health, Job would curse God. Again: “Let’s try it.” Satan afflicts Job with sores all over his body. “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

Such is the setting for the debate between Job and four accusers. They try to convince Job that his suffering is a result of his sins. Readers know Job did not sin. Job’s patience does end in a series of curses in chapter three. In chapter 38 God comes on stage. He verbally batters Job with a series of unanswerable questions which indict Job’s ignorance and lead to the conclusion that Job has no right to question God. Job admits it. At the end of his response to God Job says, “I retract all that I have said, and in dust and ashes I repent.” That does not solve the original question, why do good people suffer? The author attempts a solution. Job offers God a sacrifice for the foolishness of the four ignorant accusers. Then God restores double all of Job’s wealth and gives him a new family of sons and daughters. Besides the restoration, Job lives one hundred and forty years, long enough to see his greatgrandchildren. The gospel of this Mass shows that God does hear and sometimes heals. Our faith gives us hope for restoration in eternal life with God. The Response Psalm assures, “He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.”

The second reading is the fourth in a series of selections from the 1st Letter of St. Paul to his recently founded ‘parish’ in Corinth in southern Greece, then known as the Roman Province of Achaia. In this chapter, Paul defends himself against various complaints or accusations. He insists that he is an apostle just as much as the other apostles. Apparently he had been accused of charging or overcharging for his ministry. He responds that he has a right to be paid. Even the Torah taught, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain.” This law of the Torah commands humane treatment of animals.  Paul applies it to himself and his team. Even though he has a right to be paid, “I have not made use of this right.” He supported himself and his team as a tent-maker and probably a sail-maker or mender, since Corinth has a seaport Cenchreae. He also defends his right to be accompanied by a wife like Simon Peter and the other apostles. He did not use this right either. We know Paul’s personality from his letters — how irritated he could get, and how difficult to let go of an accusation. So even towards the end of this chapter he is still harping about working without pay. He insists that he must preach the gospel, “Woe (a curse) on me if I do not.” He asks, “Since I work without pay, what’s in it for me?” His answer: “All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in the gospel.”

Today’s gospel reading is a sequel to that of last Sunday. Jesus had been teaching and healing in the synagogue next door to the home of the extended families of Simon Peter and Andrew. Their home with its large enclosed courtyard became headquarters for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He leaves the synagogue and enters the home. Simon and Andrew and families would have been with him and returned home with him. It was the Sabbath. As he enters the house they inform him that Simon’s mother-in-law is ill. There is only one way to acquire a mother-in-law and that is through marriage to her daughter. As we just saw in comments in the above paragraph, Simon and the other apostles were family men. They were normal people. The family describes the nature of the illness. She had a fever. The dialogue does not tell us so, but this was an implied appeal for healing to Jesus who had just accomplished a casting out of a demon in the synagogue. It was believed that all sickness was somehow connected with a demon. One might say that Jesus owed them a favor. He was their semi-permanent guest. Jesus took her hand and helped her up. The cure was complete. She took over preparation and serving of supper.

Sunset brings the end of the Sabbath. People were now able to move about freely. “They brought to him all who were ill or demon-possessed.” This was a large crowd, as Mark notes, “The whole town was gathered at the door.” Jesus was already famous and was in healing mode. Mark adds that he cured many of various diseases. He did not accept publicity from expelled demons, “He did not permit them to speak because they knew him.” According to Mark’s arrangement of material in his gospel, Jesus’ identity could not be revealed until after his death. This revelation came through a Gentile — a Roman soldier in charge of the execution. His words, “Indeed this man was Son of God.” After all, the gospel was written for Romans. To his readers and hearers, Mark had revealed Jesus’ identity in the first line of his gospel, but that was unknown to the human actors in the gospel. At the end of the gospel, Jesus retreats into the countryside to pray, recharging his batteries. A group led by Simon pursues and catches up, wanting to bring him back to town. But Jesus needed to move on to preach and heal throughout Galilee.