First Reading: Job 7:1-4, 6-7 Responsorial: Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 Gospel Passage: Mark 1:29-39
Hope amidst wreckage by Msgr. Richard Henning
Television programs that feature the stories of terrible storms are increasingly common. I have to admit a certain fascination with such programs. They often feature amazing feats of courage and survival. And they have disturbing yet compelling images of the destruction wreaked by storms. Think of the aftermath of a tornado and the items of ordinary life strewn as wreckage in the trees and fields. Sometimes, though, I cannot help but think of a different sort of wreckage; the wreckage of the human heart. Long after the debris is cleared and the homes rebuilt, people continue to recover.
Sadly, the wake of a natural disaster is not the only place we encounter traumatized people. In many instances we inflict trauma on ourselves and upon others in greater degree than in nature. Sometimes that trauma comes from strangers, and sometimes from the people closest to us. We humans, so tough in the face of disaster, can be so fragile before emotional, spiritual, and mental trauma. Too often, we find ourselves standing amidst this kind of wreckage.
Our passage from Job this Sunday comes from the wreckage of a life. We may not always feel the same degree of despair that Job expresses, but all of us understand his frustration and his woe. Job has endured so much suffering and loss. Perhaps most difficult of all, Job cannot comprehend the “why” of it all. How is it possible for a good man to suffer so unjustly? Where is the compassion of God? Job’s visitors attempt to convince him of various unsatisfactory solutions to these never ending questions. Job’s first visitor claims that suffering is retribution for sin. In stinging response, Job offers us a tour of the wreckage of his innocent heart. Job’s plight cries out for a response.
The first strains of hope amidst the wreckage come in the Responsorial Psalm: “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.” These are striking words after witnessing the darkness of Job’s broken heart and they lead us into Paul’s compassionate message to the Corinthians. Christians sometimes presume that our relationship with God involves an unspoken bargain: we are faithful to God and the commandments and God must therefore make our lives safer and easier. We would do well to remember Paul’s witness. His marvelous conversion on the Damascus road did not bring him ease or a long life. His encounter with Jesus inaugurated years of sacrifice and efforts in the face of opposition, persecution, and finally execution. But the fact that Paul struggles is not the point. More importantly is the “why” of Paul’s actions. He willingly ministers will all his might out of compassion for his brothers and sisters. Paul’s fervent efforts point us in the direction of God’s means to heal the brokenhearted.
Modern scholarship speaks of a phenomenon in Mark’s Gospel called the “Messianic Secret.” In the Gospel, Jesus silences those who identify Him as in the case of the demon whom He drives out in this passage. In addition, those who should know Jesus’ identity keep missing the point. A number of different approaches attempt to explain this intriguing feature of Mark’s account. However, the real secret in Mark’s Gospel is not that Jesus is the Messiah, but the nature of Messiahship. Perhaps we should use the phrase “Messianic Surprise.” Mark helps us understand that the Messiah is so much more than our human expectations. He prepares us for the shocking truth that the Messiah must suffer and die. In today’s passage, early in the Gospel, we glimpse the deep compassion of the Messiah. He heals the sick and delivers the possessed. He has come in compassion for the many who seek Him. His prayerful intimacy with the Father is expressed in his compassionate healing of their suffering.
In our moments of pain, we may cry out hoping that God will explain the evil we encounter. Like Job’s visitors we may strive to explain such for ourselves. God does not explain, but God has and does respond. God’s most powerful response is Jesus Christ. He is the living, breathing compassion of God, come among us to heal the brokenhearted. And as Mark’s Gospel teaches so well, he takes on our suffering and becomes our hope. Even amidst the wreckage we have hope, and like Paul, we can become hope for others.