Sunday Sermon for February 4, 2018, the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-13, Mk 1:29-39
In the first reading today Job, in the midst of his suffering, calls man’s life on earth a drudgery and his days those of hirelings. When one is feeling crushed under the weight of various troubles, it feels hopeless which, again, we find in Job. He was in such darkness that Job was convinced he would never see happiness again.
Job’s disposition is one most of us can relate to, or have been able to relate to, because of our own misery. Suffering can take any number of forms, so there is no way for us to compare one person’s sufferings with those of another. When another person is incapacitated by something I would find easy to handle, I might think the other person is weak or whiny when, in fact, the person may be very strong in the areas where I am weak. The devil knows our weaknesses and tries to exploit them; God knows our weaknesses and gives us opportunities to turn them into areas of strength.
Needless to say, this is not very fun; with Job we could call it an agony. Just like in any other aspect of our lives, only by doing things repeatedly will be become proficient. Of course, most of us have no problem doing the things we enjoy, but we do not usually enjoy having to do what we are not good at or doing something imposed upon us. This is why it seems to be a drudgery.
Our disposition can also play a role in why we feel like we are swimming upstream. In the Gospel reading our Lord tells us “for this purpose I have come.” When there is one purpose we have to fulfill, getting there can be a drudgery. In the second reading St. Paul tells us “an obligation has been imposed” on him. He even goes so far as to say he has become a slave to all. When something is imposed on us from the outside, how frustrating it is to struggle under the weight of the imposition. What could be a greater drudgery than being a slave?
However, in each of these situations we notice no complaining. There is no indication that our Lord finds His purpose or St. Paul finds his obligation to be a drudgery or an external imposition. In fact, not only do they appear to be fulfilled in what they are doing, they are filled with joy. Think of the natural burden our Lord was carrying. He is God, so He knows everything, but in His human nature He still had to form dozen men who did not understand Him very well. Beyond that, He had to contend with the religious leaders who opposed Him as well as the people who were continually seeking Him. One could understand how life would seem a drudgery for Him, but nothing suggests this.
The reason both our Lord and St. Paul were fulfilled in their work is the same: charity. They did everything out of love for God and love for neighbor. When something is done out of love there is no drudgery. If, on the other hand, a person is forced to do something or does it for a lesser motive, e.g., money, promotion, recognition, then it is easy for things to be boring, frustrating, unfulfilling, in a word, a drudgery. When something is done out of love, for the good of another, no matter how trivial, mundane, repetitive, or worthless the work may seem, it is love which gives it value and purpose; love keeps it from becoming a drudgery.
Jesus came to do the will of His Father. Unlike a slave who is forced to do the will of the Master, one who does something out of love is not forced. One may feel compelled to do something, but that is because of the charity one has toward the person for whom the work is being done. This is what St. Paul felt. The obligation he felt was not one of constraint, but of love. He wanted to do what he was doing because he loved God and the people to whom he was called to preach.
Jesus came into this world to save us. He did this by preaching the Truth, giving us an example of holiness and dedication to God, and by suffering and dying for us. All of these things were done for our good, gaining nothing for Himself. Contrary to what the world tells us, this selflessness is what made His work fulfilling. The same is true of St. Paul. For us as well, our life on earth can be a drudgery or fulfilling. Our work can be like that of a hireling or an opportunity to love God and neighbor. The choice is ours!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.