Fr. Charles Irvin
Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; 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 today’s first reading. He name is Job. I’m sure most of you are familiar with his story that comes to us from the Old Testament.
We enter his story today finding Job as a successful businessman, enjoying good health, some considerable 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 slaughter his servants steal his flocks from him. A dreadful desert storm takes the lives of all his children. Under terrible pressure and stress his health fails and his entire body is covered with painful sores, the physical consequences, no doubt, of unendurable inner pain. In the end, his beloved wife tells him to “curse God and die.” And the reaction of his friends? “Well,” they tell him, “God is punishing you for some horrible secret sins in your life.”
We hear similar judgments in our own day when misfortune befalls people.
But while most of us have not suffered to the extend Job suffered (although I’ve known some who have), most of us have experienced what was sen forth in today’s 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 many 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 here this morning see nothing but those days and nights stretching out endlessly ahead of you.
There’s something special about a man or woman who has been born into great wealth, suffered the loss of it all, and then rebuilt his or her life back up again from nothing. I knew such a person – he was my father. He was a man acquainted with the task of facing life without hope of ever returning to his original comfortable state in life.
Then there’s the loss through sudden death of people whom we love and care for, or loss through lingering illness followed finally by a merciful death. I’m not sure which is more painful, sudden loss of life or loss through long, lingering, and slow diminishments ending in a final death by exhaustion. Those of you acquainted with Alzheimer’s disease know what I am talking about.
Many who have greatly suffered have likewise faced the temptation to curse heaven, blame God, and then resolve to die in nothingness. Living life over the long haul while carrying a load of hidden pain and loss that few realize is a daunting challenge to faith. The temptation to blame God and then stoically endure death is a very real temptation for many people you and I have known.
Finally there was Job’s wife, the woman he lived with a loved throughout his entire ordeal. In the end he suffered a pain worse than being impoverished, suffering terrible losses, and then finally turning into a physical wreck covered with sores. The one he trusted, loved, and depended upon, the one he cherished, walked out on him while advising him to “curse God and die.” That’s polite biblical language covering over what she was really saying: “God to hell, Job!”
Jesus, whom we find in today’s Gospel, was awash in human pain, suffering, neediness, and loss, set out in the face of it all to pray. He turned directly to God His Father in heaven. Indeed in the Garden of Gethsemani He personally experienced it all, sweating blood because of its intensity. Job is a prefiguring shadow of Christ before Christ came among us to take on our suffering. Job, in the end, kept his faith in God. At the end of the Book of Job we find him talking with God, saying: “I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eyes have seen you.” At the end of Christ’s life we find Jesus surrendering Himself to His Father in heaven, trusting and believing in His Father through horrible suffering unto death.
Jesus, in His lifetime, cried out to us: “You have eyes to see and ears to hear.” He challenges us to seek God and find Him, to hear God, to trust in His Word, and to receive His love in good times and in bad. 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 our Father is with us in it all and through it all, in spite of our pathetic complaints about where God is while we suffer, along with our observations about other people’s sins and our petty judgments about who is saved and who is damned.
Job and Jesus give us testimony. They are witnesses to the presence of God in the core of our humanity and in all of 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, the Bread of Life that will sustain us as we face all that this world would strip away from us. It is bread made of ground kernels of wheat, along with wine that comes from smashed grapes. It is given to us in our human brokenness, a brokenness that Jesus entered into all the way through death itself. It is the Bread of Life given to us by our Father to nourish our starving souls and thirsting hearts, given to us by Christ Jesus, a man acquainted with suffering, our suffering, and whose life even death itself could not extinguish.
That life, O Christian, is yours! Job believed in it. Jesus gave it to you. And it’s yours, O Christian. It’s all yours for the taking.