The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
“Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” (Job 7:1). Is not man’s life on earth filled with heart-ache and pain? Is not man’s life on earth filled with grief and misery? The Psalmist sings, “Our span is seventy years or eighty for those who are strong; and most of these are emptiness and pain” (Psalm). We know the drudgery of earthly life all too well.
We spend many restless nights in the vain attempt to fall asleep; no matter what we do we cannot find peace. Our heart is torn in two and our mind cannot begin to understand our sorrow and hurt. Our misery simply makes no sense and there is no relief to it.
The drudgery of life of which Job speaks comes in a great many forms. The drudgery of Job consisted largely of the pain of the mourning and grieving of loved ones; the loss of possessions and wealth; the loss of good health and true friends; and especially of the immeasurable pain of the sense of abandonment by God. He suffers so greatly that he cries out, “Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again” (Job 7:7).
There are those among us who know well the agony experienced by Job and there are those among us who do not know the depth of these sufferings; but each of us suffers each day in some way – none of us is immune to the drudgery of life.
The daily routine of life and work grows weary upon us; we grow frustrated when our children do not listen to us and when our parents do not seem to understand us; homework becomes a chore and chores become toilsome; the vicious words of gossip sting our souls with their lies and tear us down. Parents die when we are but children and sons and daughters die too young; time spent with dear friends never is long enough; old man winter returns to those who looked for the return of spring. Even one of the greatest joys of life – the birth of a child – is marked with pain as a consequence of sin (see Genesis 3:16). To say that we do not suffer is to pay little attention to life itself. “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?”
Indeed, the very preaching of the Gospel itself brings suffering, for as St. Paul says, “If I [preach] willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship” (I Corinthians 9:17). The recompense of the Gospel, the payment or reward of the Gospel says Paul, is that “I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible” (I Corinthians 9:22). Preaching the Gospel willingly requires the abandonment of self and the service of all and here there is always pain; no longer do my needs and concerns matter, but only the needs and concerns of those I serve. And if the Gospel should be preached unwillingly, then we are reminded that we have been entrusted with a stewardship. Every stewardship involves various obligations and duties and the duty of this stewardship is the preaching of the Gospel. The Prophet Jeremiah knew this well; he said,
The word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it (Jeremiah 20:8-9).
Willingly or not, the Gospel must be preached; willingly or not, we, especially those who seek to serve the Lord, must become the servants, the slaves, of those around us, for “All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I may too may have a share in it” (I Corinthians 9:23).
Into the clamor of all of this suffering and pain come the stirring words of the Psalmist that lift our hearts with hope and expectation: “Praise the Lord who heals the brokenhearted” (Psalm 147, refrain). Our broken hearts can be mended; all is not lost; the drudgery of human life can be undone and it has been undone!
Indeed, when Simon and the Apostles say to Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, “Everyone is looking for you,” he does not hide from them nor does he turn them away (Mark 1:37). He turns to them, saying, “For this purpose have I come” (Mark 1:38). Jesus has come to heal the brokenhearted and to bind up the wounds that life has inflicted upon us (see Psalm 147:3). What is more, he does not simply wish to stay in Capernaum; he says to Peter, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also” (Mark 1:39). Jesus has come to save not only the people of Galilee, but all of the world.
Jesus has come to set us free from the drudgery of life on earth. We celebrated this reality just one month ago when we celebrated the birth of Jesus. During this festive time we recalled the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help (Hebrews 4:14-16).
The drudgery of life has been removed; the ultimate goal and purpose of every life has been revealed in Jesus Christ through the Cross.
The very same Job who knew the misery of life also said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!” (Job 1:21). Job’s trust in God, despite his suffering for no apparent reason, has not been shaken. In all of this Job waited for the Messiah (see Job 14:14). He says to his self-righteous friends, “But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust, and from my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26).
The great drudgery of death itself could not contain the Lord Jesus; he is risen and has saved us from the drudgery of life on earth! He beckons us on to enter fully into the drudgery and pain of life and so share in his death, so that we might share also with him everlasting glory and life. He has conquered death and given new meaning to our lives; for this purpose has he come!
He calls us to this table to receive his very Body and Blood, and so be united with him in his death and resurrection. He says to us, “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. Yes, in joy you shall depart, in peace you shall be brought back” (Isaiah 55:3, 12).
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? No, not with Christ. Where, then, is the joy in life? Only in Christ Jesus who has come “so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete” (John 15:11).