Fr. Charles Irvin
Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19; Mark 1:29-39
Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” One such person comes to us this morning in the first reading of today’s Mass. His name is Job, and you’ve all heard references to his story, I’m sure.
We enter his story finding Job as a successful businessman, enjoying good health, great wealth, at the peak of happiness, surrounded by a loving family and married to a good wife.
But good fortune is like the wind. Suddenly everything changes. Savage bandits who slaughter his servants steal his flocks away from him. A dreadful desert storm takes the lives of all of his children. Under terrible stress his health fails and his entire body is covered with sores, the medical consequence of unendurable inner pain, pressure and stress.
In the end his beloved wife tells him to “curse God and die”.
The reaction of his friends? “Well, obviously God is punishing him for some horrible secret sins in his life!” We hear the same judgment today when we find people saying: “Well, people with AIDS deserve to have it for the sins they have committed!”
But while most of us have not suffered to the extent that Job did, some of us have experienced what was set forth in the first reading… never-ending sleepless nights filled with fear, anxiety, guilt, and self-punishment. Some have felt tempted to literally curse God and die. Certainly a number have cursed the Church and died.
And then there are the days that follow those nights… long, long days filled with drudgery, pain, and hopelessness, days that appear one after another without end. Some of you sitting here right this very moment with us see nothing but those days and nights ahead of you until you die.
There’s something special about a man or woman who was born into great wealth, suffers the loss of it all, and then rebuilds his or her life back up from nothing. I knew such a person – he was my father. He was a man acquainted with facing life without hope of ever returning to his original comfort and happiness.
Then there’s the loss of people whom we love and care for through sudden death, or loss through lingering illness and finally a merciful death. I’m not sure which is more painful, the sudden losses or the long, long, lingering slow diminishments followed by a final merciful death beyond the point of exhaustion. Living life over the long haul carrying a load of hidden pain and loss that few realize we carry is a daunting challenge to faith. The temptation to curse heaven, blame God, or blow God away, and then die in nothingness is a very real temptation for all too many people.
Finally there was Job’s wife – the woman he lived with and loved throughout the entire ordeal. In the end he suffered a pain worse than being impoverished, suffering horrible losses of ones that he loved, even his children, and finally turning into a human physical wreck covered with sores. The one he trusted, loved, and depended upon, the one he cherished, walked out on him, advising him to “curse God and die”. It was polite biblical language covering up what she was really saying, which was: “Go to hell, Job!”
Jesus, whom we find in today’s Gospel awash in human pain, suffering, neediness, and loss, sets out in the face of it all to pray. In the face of it all He goes directly to God. Indeed, in the Garden of Gethsemani he directly and personally experiences all of human pain- Job is a shadow of Christ before Christ’s light came to earth. Job, in the end, keeps his faith in God. When all of his friends had tempted him to give up on God, Job=s response was AThe Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.@ And at the end of the Book of Job we find him talking with God, saying to God: I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eyes have seen you.@
Jesus, in his lifetime, cried out to us: “You have eyes to see and ears to hear!” He challenges us to see God and find Him, to hear God and love His Word. Jesus challenges us to do that in the midst of whatever life throws at us, in success and in failure, in gain and in loss, in sickness and in health, in happiness and in suffering. Jesus reveals to us that God is in it all, in spite of our petty and pathetic judgments about God=s absence, about why we suffer, what other people’s sins are, and finally about who is damned and who is saved.
Job and Jesus give us testimony; they are witnesses to the Presence of God in the guts of humanity and in the core of all human life.
So when you are tempted to despair, remember Job and receive Jesus. For Christ Jesus, our Savior gives us this day, right here on this altar, our daily bread. It is food made of ground up wheat kernels and smashed grapes, given to us in human brokenness. It is the Bread of Life to nourish our starving souls and thirsting hearts, given to us by Jesus Christ, a man acquainted with suffering and whose life not even Death itself could take.
That life, O Christian, is yours! Job believed in it. Jesus gave it to you.