5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - 4th February, 2018

Liturgical Reflection

Jb 7:1–4, 6–7; Ps 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; Mk 1:29–39

At first sight, the progression in today’s core scripture passages—the two from the Jewish Bible and the one from Mark’s Gospel—seems clear. We start with Job’s depression and despair; then there is the psalmist’s call to hope and comfort; and finally the psalmist’s rhetoric is brought down to ground-level, with the actual Jesus curing one individual woman in her home before the lens zooms out again, and we see Him healing many indistinguishable people of both physical and psychological illnesses. It seems that the message of the sequence as a whole might be the old “Cast care aside, lean on thy guide; His boundless mercy will provide,” as if trust in God were enough to drive away our suffering, cure us of life-threatening illnesses, and drive out whatever “demons” happen to possess us.

As there is little in experience to suggest that such is generally the case, we would do well to look for a deeper meaning in the sequence, rather than letting ourselves be deceived by the lectionary seeming to speak what we would like to hear. A deeper meaning readily reveals itself. The key contrast is not between Job’s almost suicidal imaginings and the matron who calmly engages in the other-directed activity of serving guests once Jesus has stretched out His hand and helped her to her feet.


That contrast is there, to be sure, but it presages the more significant contrast between Job’s purposeless tossing and turning and Jesus’s deliberate withdrawal, very early in the morning, to go somewhere where he does not expect to be disturbed in order to pray. Job wallows in the misery of powerlessness; Jesus renews His power through communion with His father and then goes forth refreshed.

He goes forth to pursue an enlarged mission of relieving ordinary villagers of spiritual blindness and emotional distress.

In this perspective, two lines from the psalm take on extra significance. Healing the brokenhearted and binding up their wounds are actions that make sense in our world of emotional preoccupation. But the psalmist is above basking in human sentimentality; there is a leap into the praise of Him who “tells the number of the stars” and who “calls each by name.”

God is not a Dr Spock for adults but a power beyond our comprehension.