Thursday, February 05, 2015

"Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted": Readings for the FifthSunday of Ordinary Time

This Sunday the lectionary has us pick up where we left off in the Gospel of Mark last Sunday. Last week we heard about how Jesus' ministry was characterized by "authority"/"power"--something which was specifically highlighted by his authority over evil spirits. This Sunday we are presented with a series of scenes that further emphasize Jesus' identity as a healer and exorcist.

The first reading, which is taken from the book of Job, also deals with a figure associated with healing: Job. Indeed, the story of Job is ultimately about God's victory over Satan--making the story an apt background for the Gospel reading.

Moreover, as we shall see, the book of Job provides some helpful perspective on questions that might be raised by the Gospel selection. Among others, after hearing about how Jesus went around healing vast numbers of people during his earthly ministry, we might ask: Why doesn't Jesus always heal us from our physical infirmities today?

Finally, the second reading continues where we left off in 1 Corinthians last Sunday. In Ordinary Time, the second reading in the lectionary is not always chosen because it is somehow related to the first reading or the Gospel. That is clearly on display here. One is hard-pressed to find a point of contact between what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9 (the second reading) and the other selections from Scripture read this Sunday. The beauty of the second reading in Ordinary Time is that it offers an opportunity for continuous reading from a specific book of the Bible (cf. no. 107 here).

Below are some of my thoughts on these selections. Obviously, a lot could be said and I can't offer a completely comprehensive treatment of all the issues raised by them in a simply blog post (far from it!). Rather, I've tried to focus on some "big picture" items. I hope this is helpful.

FIRST READING: Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Job spoke, saying: Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings? He is a slave who longs for the shade,a hireling who waits for his wages. So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me. If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?”then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.
I think it is appropriate here to say a few words about Job and his eponymous book.
The meaning of "Job" in Hebrew, ’iyyob, is somewhat uncertain. The Septuagint (Greek translation) of Job 42:18 identifies him as a king of Edom, Jobab (Ge 36:33 = 1 Chr 1:44; Gen 10:29). Yet there is nothing else in the book itself that necessitates that conclusion. Some scholars suggest that his name is related to the term ’ôyēb, "enemy", which does cohere with statements made by Job later in the book:
Why dost thou hide thy face, and count me as thy enemy? (Job 13:24)
Behold, he finds occasions against me, he counts me as his enemy (Job 33:10).
However, the name may not be simply intended as a literary device. There is evidence that a form of the name was actually used in the second millennium B.C. (cf., e.g., Tell el-Amarna letter no. 256; 14th cent. B.C.).[1]

This raises the question as to whether or not Job is an actual historical figure. Here we have to be clear: there can be no question that the book is written in a poetic tone; the genre of the book is certainly not history.

That did not, however, keep later Jewish and Christian writers from speaking of Job as a historical figure; for them the story was understood as rooted in the historical memory of an actual person. Job is mentioned in the Old Testament in Ezek. 14:14 and in the New Testament in James 5:11. Later rabbinic tradition, attested to in the Babylonian Talmud, also spoke of him as a historical figure, though the rabbis did not agree about whether he lived in the Patriarchal Period (b. Baba Bathra 15b; Esau's grandson), during the time of Moses (b. Sanh. 106a; Sotah 11a), or after the Babylonian exile (b. Bathra 15a).  

What is perhaps most significant is that within the book Job is identified as a Gentile. He is from the land of "Uz", that is, Edom (cf. Lam. 4:2). The book therefore represents a story about a righteous Gentile. The first verse of the book says he was "blameless and upright", explaining that he "feared God, and turned away from evil" (1:1). 

As is well known, the book begins with a scene in the divine assembly where Satan insists that Job's piety is motivated merely by self-interest. Satan insists that should calamity befall him, Job's righteousness would evaporate. God thus permits Satan to afflict him.

In short order, Job then loses everything. His possessions are destroyed and his ten children are killed (Job 1:13-19). He then suffers from sickness. His wife survives but is nonetheless embittered, advising him coldly, "Curse God and die" (Job 2:9).

The next 27 chapters of the book follow a cycle of dialogues wherein, among other things, Job's "friends" (we use the term loosely), insist that his suffering is evidence that he is guilty of sin. In general, with each successive cycle, the rhetoric against Job is amplified. His friends seem unwillingly to acknowledge the possibility that Job is in fact an innocent man. 

Yet throughout the book Job insists upon his righteousness. 

All of this reaches a climax when Job swears an imprecatory oath, calling upon the Lord to vindicate him:
I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I look upon a virgin? 2 What would be my portion from God above, and my heritage from the Almighty on high? 3 Does not calamity befall the unrighteous, and disaster the workers of iniquity? 4 Does not he see my ways, and number all my steps? 5 “If I have walked with falsehood, and my foot has hastened to deceit; 6 (Let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!)… 35 Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! let the Almighty answer me!) (Job 31:1–6, 35)
In short, the book of Job highlights the fact that all suffering is not the result of sin. To quote John Paul II, 

While it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment, when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment. The figure of the just man Job is a special proof of this in the Old Testament. (John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no. 11)
At last, God responds and speaks of his omnipotence and omniscience. Job acknowledges, in effect, that he can find no fault with God.
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. (Job 42:3b-c)
To borrow from another biblical book, God essentially says,
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:8-9)
Why has all of this befallen Job? Is it his sin? No. What's the reason for his suffering? At the end of the day, the full story is never revealed to him. Faith must embrace mystery. The reader is left to conclude that Job is a model of faith because we too must trust in the Lord even when we cannot fully understand his ways; even when it means enduring suffering. 

Ultimately, God blesses Job. By the end of the book, all Job lost is restored two-fold to him. . . with one exception. Job lost ten children. At the end of the story, he is given another ten children--not two-fold the number of children he had before (i.e., 20). Commentators have struggled to explain this. I must say, I find Robert Alder's suggestion here intriguing. Alder suggests that, despite earlier denials (cf. Job 7:7-10' 10:21-22; 11:11-12; 16:22), here we might have a hint at the hope of life after death--Job's previous children are not forever lost to him but, since they will one day be restored to him, are not "replaced".[2] 

With this as context, let us look more specifically at the passage that we will hear in this Sunday's first reading. Job, in the midst of his affliction, speaks of life as a "drudgery". His description of human life could not be more grim. Of course, elsewhere in the book Job speaks a bit more hopefully (Job 19:25-27). The point is that Job's speech is not to be taken as a theological treatise; Job is speaking the language of his heart. He is not providing us with a systematic theology. 

In other words, his statement that he shall not see happiness again is not necessarily reflective of what he actually thinks; in fact, elsewhere he seems less certain of this grim future. His speech represents the honest outpouring of his heart. At this point, he feels as if there is no hope. The point of the speech is to relay his existential experience, his heartfelt anguish. 

Indeed, this is how the psalmist prays at times--honestly. The raw emotion displayed in some of the psalms may perhaps seem unsettling to those who read them from a faith perspective. In his distress, the psalmist directly asks God why he has delayed in delivering him.
O Lord, why dost thou cast me off?
Why dost thou hide thy face from me? (Ps 88:14)
The psalmist even suggests that God's non-responsiveness is due to divine sluggishness:
Why dost thou hide thy face?
Why dost thou forget our affliction and oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
our body cleaves to the ground.
Rise up, come to our help!
Deliver us for the sake of thy steadfast love! (Ps 44:24–26)
In language that even seems to call God’s character into question, the psalmist declares:
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” [Selah]
And I say, “It is my grief
that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” (Ps 77:9–10)
While this way of speaking to God may appear impious to us, there it is, present in the psalms—a book the church has received as inspired scripture! The question we must ask, then, is this: Why might such sentiments be contained in the Bible? 

Why would the church accept a book as inspired that depicts Job speaking in such despairing terms? Doesn't he have faith? There are a number of ways to answer this question. Yet part of the answer  seems to be that the entirety of the human experience must be brought into conversation with God. No emotion or human condition is too raw to be brought before God.

Indeed, the Psalms teach us that the prayer God wants from us is marked by honesty. The psalmist tells us that God “triest the minds and hearts” (Ps 7:9). In response, the believer strives to be one who “speaks truth from his heart” (Ps 15:2). It is only with this attitude of openness and transparency can we pray, “teach me wisdom in my secret heart” (Ps 51:6).

RESPONSORIAL PSALM: Ps. 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

R. (cf. 3a) Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted. or: R. Alleluia. 
Praise the LORD, for he is good;sing praise to our God, for he is gracious; it is fitting to praise him. The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem; the dispersed of Israel he gathers.  
R. (cf. 3a) Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted. or: R. Alleluia.  
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He tells the number of the stars; he calls each by name.  
R. (cf. 3a) Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted. or: R. Alleluia.  
Great is our Lord and mighty in power; to his wisdom there is no limit. The LORD sustains the lowly; the wicked he casts to the ground.  
R. (cf. 3a) Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted. or: R. Alleluia. 
The psalm was likely chosen, in part, because it works well with the first reading. It emphasizes the goodness of God who heals the brokenhearted. His wisdom knows no limit. He sustains those who are lowly (humble). 

All of this, does not mean his people do not suffer. Jerusalem needs rebuilding, Israel has been dispersed, and his people are brokenhearted and wounded. 

Yet suffering is not an indication that God has abandoned his people. He knows all of the stars and his wisdom has no limit--though sometimes it may not feel that way. 

The psalm also, however, works well with the Gospel reading, where we will hear about how Christ brings healing to Peter's mother-in-law. 

SECOND READING: 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23

Brothers and sisters: If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my recompense? That, when I preach, I offer the gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. 
Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to allso as to win over as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.
In this section of 1 Corinthians Paul explains why he preaches the Gospel without asking for monetary compensation or for any other kind of payment. In verses that precede the passage read this Sunday, Paul asks, 
4 Do we not have the right to our food and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brethern of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? (1 Cor 9:4-7)
These are obviously rhetorical questions. The basic point is that, ordinarily, one should be expected to be able to provide for oneself through one's labors. 

(Incidentally, whether Paul actually refers to a wife here is a translation question; the word translated "wife" [gynē] could also be simply translated "woman". In fact, as Brant Pitre has pointed out to me, in the Greek the language is literally "sister wife/woman". So Paul could be referring to the idea of traveling with women who minister to him, something like we see with the women disciples of Jesus in the Gospels.)

Paul's point, however, is that even though it should be expected that Paul receives some payment for his missionary efforts, he still refuses such support. How does he live? It is worth mentioning here that, according to the book of Acts, Paul supported himself by working as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3). 

Picking up where the lectionary selection for this Sunday begins (v. 16), Paul explains that his ministry is not something he performs voluntarily; he deserves no reward for his work because he is simply fulfilling his obligation to the Lord. Indeed, elsewhere Paul speaks of the way he is compelled by God in Christ to press on in his apostolic efforts.

I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. . . (Phil. 3:12)
Something similar is said of Paul's calling in the book of Acts. Recounting his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul describes how Jesus told him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads"(Acts 26:14). The latter line employs an old Greek proverb that speaks of useless resistance being harmful to the one who attempts it. The idea behind the provide is that oxen that are yoked only harm themselves on the spikes of the plow that comes behind them. 

Paul thus insists that he does not perform his service of the Gospel as a freeman; he cannot receive a "reward"--i.e., payment--for what he is doing since his is the ministry of a slave--he is a slave of Christ. Specifically, Paul uses the language of "stewardship", evoking the imagery of the slave who is entrusted with administering his master's household (cf. the servant described in Luke 16:1-9). 

Since Paul, therefore, works as a slave of Christ he cannot, therefore, receive a "reward" for what he has does in his ministry; his service is not voluntary. 

This is to Paul's advantage. Paul can take no money from anyone--and so he is beholden to no one. He belongs to no "faction" at Corinth. He owes no one anything. He is the slave of Christ, not that of any wealthy benefactor. 

Yet Paul is not simply a slave of Christ, he is the slave of all. For what purpose? To win "as many as possible". 

Paul's ministry is thus truly conformed to the image of Christ, who, Paul tells us elsewhere, "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" (Phil 2:7).

Paul is willing likewise to empty himself, becoming a slave. He will be "all things to all"--he pours himself out willingly in service--with the hope of saving "some". Paul's zeal for saving others is here clearly on display.

Much more could be said about this, but I must at this point move to the Gospel reading. 

GOSPEL: Mark 1:29-39
On leaving the synagogueJesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them. When it was evening, after sunset,they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.  
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued himand on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.For this purpose have I come.”So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
As mentioned above, this Sunday's Gospel continues where we left off last Sunday in the Gospel of Mark. Last week I wrote about how Jesus' ministry is performed "in power". That power is further demonstrated here with the account of the healing of Simon Peter's mother-in-law. Jesus has power over disease.

Indeed, throughout the Gospels Jesus is portrayed as a miracle worker. In fact, this is one of the most prominent aspects of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' ministry.[3]

Moreover, although there are important questions about whether or not it is authentic, it seems like the first-century historian Josephus also spoke of Jesus as a worker of wondrous deeds.[4] It seems hard to disagree with Twelftree, who states, “there is hardly any aspect of the life of the historical Jesus which is so well and widely attested as that he conducted unparalleled wonders."[5]

In the Gospels, Jesus' miracles are also closely linked to his messianic role. Notably, the Dead Sea Scrolls also link the coming of the Messiah with specific miraculous deeds:
1 [for the heav]ens and the earth will listen to his anointed one. . . . 7 For he will honour the pious upon the throne of an eternal kingdom, 8 freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, straightening out the twis[ted]. . . 11 And the Lord will perform marvelous acts such as have not existed, just as he sa[id] 12 [for] he will heal the badly wounded and will make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the poor. . .” (4Q521 II 2:11–12).
It is widely recognized that this fragment is drawing on two passages from Isaiah
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; (Isa 61:1) 
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. (Isa 35:5-6) 
To turn for a moment to Matthew and Luke, it is worth mentioning that there Jesus specifically seems to draw from the same two passages from Isaiah highlighted in 4Q521 to identify himself as the Messiah. When the disciples of John ask him, "Are you he who is to come or shall we look for another?", he responds:
. . . “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them." (Matthew 11:5; cf. Luke 7:22)
The Gospel reading from Mark, however, also goes on to speak about Jesus' exorcistic ministry. Jesus not only has power over sickness, he also has power over the demons. 

In the first reading we heard about Job, whom God allowed to be afflicted with sickness and suffering by Satan. Of course, in the Gospels divine healing comes through Jesus, who overcomes the power of the evil one. 

However, in our ordinary experience we know that, however we might pray for it, physical healing is not always received from God. 

In the lectionary, then, the first reading and the Gospel are read together for a reason: God is the Lord of life. Suffering does not find its origin in God. Nevertheless, the readings help us understand that although God can heal our physical infirmities, he doesn't always do this. That's not because God has somehow abandoned us. What we learn from Job is that we simply cannot scrutinize God's plans and fully understand them; his ways are not always our ways. Trusting him even when we don't understand them--that's faith! 

Finally, we might add one more point. The early Christians read the healing stories of Jesus as allegories for the spiritual healing accomplished by God through the sacramental ministry of the Church. In fact, Mark's narrative itself suggests that Jesus' acts of physical healing can be seen as an image of spiritual renewal: in Mark 2, Jesus' healing of a paralytic is understood as a demonstration of his power to forgive sins. 

With that in mind, I'll close with a reflection from Rabanus Maurus (d. 856), abbot of Fulda and archbishop of Mainz:
Or, every soul that struggles with fleshly lusts is sick of a fever, but touched with the hand of Divine mercy, it recovers health, and restrains the concupiscence of the flesh by the bridle of continence, and with those limbs with which it had served uncleanness, it now ministers to righteousness. (cited from Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea on Matt 8:14-15)
[1] See, e.g., Norman C. Habel, The Book of Job (Old Testament Library; Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1985), 86.

[2] Robert L. Alden, Job (vol. 11; The New American Commentary; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 413.

[3] See, e.g., David Aune (“Magic in Early Christianity,” ANRW 2 [1980]: 1523–523 nn. 67–69 [1507–57]), who classifies the miracles of Jesus as follows. Six exorcisms: (1) the demoniac in the synagogue (Mark 1:23–28//Luke 4:33–37); (2) the Gadarene demoniac (Matt 8:28–34//Mark 5:1–20//Luke 8:26–39); (3) the daughter of the Syrophoenician/Canaanite woman (Matt 15:21–28//Mark 7:24–30); (4) the demoniac boy and his father (Matt 17:14–21//Mark 9:14–29//Luke 9:37–43); (5) the dumb demoniac (Matt 9:32–34); (6) the blind and dumb demoniac (Matt 12:22–23//Luke 11:14–15; cf. Mark 3:22). Seventeen healings: (1) Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt 8:14–15//Mark 1:29–31//Luke 4:38–39); the leper (Matt 8:1–4//Mark 1:40–45//Luke 5:12–16); (3) the paralytic (Matt 9:1–8//Mark 2:1–12//Luke 5:17–26); (4) the man with a withered hand (Matt 12:9–14//Mark 3:1–6//Luke 6:6–11); (5) the daughter of Jairus (Matt 9:18–19, 23–26//Mark 5:21–24, 35–43//Luke 8:40–42, 49–56); (6) the woman with a hemorrhage (Matt 9:20–22//Mark 5:25–34//Luke 8:43–48); (7) the deaf mute (Mark 7:31–36); (8) the blind man near Bethsaida (Mark 8:22–26); (9) blind Bartimaeus (Matt 20:29–34//Mark 10:46–52//Luke 18:35–43; cf. Matt 9:27–31); (10) the young man at Nain (Luke 7:11–17); (11) the woman bent over (Luke 13:10–17); (12) the ten lepers (Luke 17:11–19); (13) the man with dropsy (Luke 14:1–6); (14) the paralytic by the pool (John 5:1–9); (15) the raising of Lazarus (John 11); (16) the man born blind (John 9); (17) the centurion’s servant (Matt 8:5–13//Luke 7:1–10//John 4:46–54). Eight “nature miracles”: (1) the stilling of the storm (Matt 8:23–27//Mark 4:35–41//Luke 8:22–25); (2) the feeding of the five thousand (Matt 14:13–21//Mark 6:32–44//Luke 9:10–17); (3) the feeding of the four thousand (Matt 15:32–39; Mark 8:1–10); (4) walking on the water (Matt 14:22–33//Mark 6:45–52//John 6:16–21); (5) the cursing of the fig tree (Matt 21:18–22//Mark 11:12–14, 20–26); (6) the coin in the fish’s mouth (Matt 17:24–27); (7) the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1–11; cf. John 21:1–14); (8) changing water into wine (John 2:1–11). Yet also see Meier, Marginal Jew, 2:633–634 who takes issue with some of Aune’s taxonomy.

[4] See, e.g., Theissen and Merz, Der historische Jesus, 273. Josephus relates that Jesus was known for performing "paradoxical works" (paradoxa erga; A.J. 18.63), the same term he uses to describe the miracles of Elisha earlier in his work (A.J. 9.182). 

[5] Graham Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker, 345. Likewise, see John P. Meier, Marginal Jew, 2:970: “In sum, the statement that Jesus acted as and was viewed as an exorcist and healer during his public ministry has as much historical corroboration as almost any other statement we can make about the Jesus of history. . . Any historian who seeks to portray the historical Jesus without giving due weight to his fame as a miracle-worker is not delineating this strange and complex Jew, but rather a domesticated Jesus reminiscent of the bland moralist created by Thomas Jefferson.” 

1 comment:

Martin said...

Thank you