JESUS AND THE SUFFERING OF MANKIND
Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39
Last Sunday, Mark told us of the first miracle of Jesus at Capernaum. Today, Mark tells us of Jesus’ first meeting with human suffering and misery, and how he spends every energy to teach the people. By these miracles that Jesus performs today, and by his teaching, he gives us hope for an answer to the problem that worried Job in the first reading: The problem of evil in the world.
1. THE MINISTRY OF JESUS IN THE WORLD
The entire ministry of Jesus can be summed up in two words: PREACHING and HEALING. Jesus, himself declares in the Gospel of John: “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10). Jesus gives that life (and its fullness) through his preaching and healing ministry. Today’s gospel passage provides us with a summary of his activities in both areas, right at the beginning of his public ministry. Jesus himself tells his disciples, “Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.” From this text, it is clear, that part of the reason why Jesus, the son of God, came into the world was to preach; that is, to proclaim the Good News. Furthermore, Jesus is shown healing all manners of ailments, from the mere fever of Simon’s mother-in-law to demonic possession. At sunset, they bring him the sick and those possessed by devils (Mk 1:32-34). No ailment is beyond his power to heal. The following morning, he sets out on a tour of the neighbouring towns of Galilee because he knows that there are people everywhere in need of his help (Mk 1:35-39).
Both aspects of the ministry of Jesus (Preaching and healing) go hand-in-hand. Preaching accompanies healing, just as healing reinforces preaching. What Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah, and which Jesus claims for himself, readily comes to mind: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Lk 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2). Jesus proclaims the Good News of the Kingdom of God by inviting all humankind to let God reign as king in their hearts and in their lives, to reconcile us with God and with one another. For, much of the sickness, poverty and suffering that exist in our world are traceable to the state of disharmony or sin that separates us from God and from one another. No doubt, in the Gospels, Jesus often linked forgiveness of sins with physical healing. He often called those afflicted in one way or the other to turn away from their sins, as a prelude to being healed or restored to wholesome life. By healing this root cause of all our problems, we find ourselves in a position to receive God’s abundant blessings in all areas of our lives, spiritual as well as physical, moral as well as material, social as well psychological. In fact, according to Jesus, trying to seek physical healing and material well-being without first making peace with God is to miss the point.
2. JESUS HAS AUTHORITY OVER OUR BROKENNESS
a) Peter’s mother-in-law: We are told that when Jesus and his disciples arrived at Peter’s home, they found Peter’s mother-in-law suffering from a high fever. When informed about the situation, Jesus “took her by the hand and raised her up (Luke tells us that Jesus rebuked the fever –Lk 4:38-39—like he rebuked the demon in the synagogue, last week), and it left her.” The many exorcists in the time Jesus worked with elaborate incantations, and formulae, and spells, and magical apparatus. In the synagogue, last Sunday, Jesus spoke one authoritative sentence and the healing was complete. Today, before the sick bed of Peter’s mother-in-law, with one gesture and a word of unique authority and power, he healed the woman. “She got up at once and began to wait on them.” One minute this woman was on death’s door and the next she is getting up and fixing lunch! This woman’s healing was complete and sudden. In fact, the thing we can notice about the healings of Jesus is the fact that there was never any doubt that the people had been healed. The healings were always instantaneous and complete!
b) The Crowds: It did not take long for word to travel throughout the town. The things that Jesus had done in Capernaum could not be concealed. As soon as the Sabbath had ended at sundown (for on was forbidden to do anything kind of “work” or travel on the Sabbath until dusk (Cf. Jeremiah 17:24)) the people carried their sick to the home of Simon. Luke’s version of this incidence says more clearly that Jesus laid “his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ but he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.’” (Lk 4:40-41)
Imagine this! Jesus was worn out from a long day and yet He took time to touch each person. He treated each person individually and healed every disease. Whatever the problem Jesus made it right. Jesus is a personal Saviour. His involvement with people is not detached; it is real and intimate. He is the one who has the power and has love and compassion to go with that power. Jesus has, and exercises, authority over our brokenness.
c) He treated any and everywhere without discrimination: In the gospel of Mark so far, we have seen Jesus healing people three time. First he healed in the synagogue; second he healed in the house of his friends; and now he is healing in the streets. Being a spiritually-minded person, Jesus refuses to limit his ministry to one place or to encourage the belief of a coming worldly Kingdom of God. Therefore, responding to Simon, Jesus said: “Let us go the neighboring towns so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And Jesus travels throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message of the spiritual Kingdom of God in the synagogues and cast out demons. Wherever there was trouble, Jesus was ready to use his power to bring calm. He selected neither the place nor the person; he realized the universal claim of human of need. Jesus makes us understand that the evil that exists in the world can be defeated.
3. THE SOURCE OF JESUS’ POWER
We can guess that the healing of these people probably went on late into the night. Jesus was left with no time alone. Giving yourself to others is exhausting. The admiration of the crowd could be intoxicating. Jesus knew that if he was going to be forever giving out, sometimes he must at least be taking in. He knew that if he was going to spend himself for others, he must ever and again summon spiritual reinforcement to his assistance. He knew he could not live without God. He knew he could not live without prayer. Jesus knew his strength came from his communion with the Father. His power was a derived from the power of God. He sought to do his will and his will alone.
Jesus was ready and available to and for men and women because he kept in constant union with his Father. If prayer was necessary for Jesus, how much more must it be necessary for us? Let us imagine our need for prayer be a like the instruction in the owners’ manual of a vehicle that tells you to fill the tank with fuel and regularly change the engine oil if you want the vehicle to perform as designed. You could go to the mechanic workshop every day and park your car and go inside and sit around. Doing just this is not going to help you extend the life of your vehicle. You can actually memorize the owner’s manual and become friend with the mechanic. You can purchase many litres of oil and store them in the boot of your car. However, if you never actually fill the car with fuel and never change the oil, the car will break down.
In the same way, one can come to church each week and do church-like stuff but go away without ever connecting with the Lord. No doubt, we easily run out of spiritual fuel and break down. It is the power of God that fuels our lives. It is His authority that gives us wise direction. He has provided the resources we need to keep our tanks full but we must take advantage of them. Therefore, reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, receiving the sacraments devoutly and truly participating in heartfelt worship are valuable because that is how we refuel our spirit. That is how one can connect with God.
4. THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH
The church was established by Christ to continue his ministry through all time and space. That is exactly what the Church has endeavoured to do so far, throughout her two thousand and twenty-one-year history. In every generation and in every place, the Church has sought both to PREACH (through evangelization in schools, churches, parishes, etc.) and to HEAL (through hospitals, health centers, orphanages, handicap centers, schools for training health personnel, etc.). Both activities have always been present in the Church. They have never gone away. At various times, one aspect might have assumed greater prominence than the other. But neither of them has ever been completely absent from the church.
Our world today is very sick, perhaps more sick than at any other time in history. The range of sicknesses goes from the physical to the psychological, the moral and the spiritual. Some of the ailments that we encounter in the world today are ORIGINAL; that is to say, nobody has ever heard of them before; and nobody has ever suffered from them before, e.g., Covid 19. Again, those ailments can be found in the physical, psychological, moral and spiritual spheres. Put simply, our world is sick, and needs healing very badly.
The Church has the mandate and the authority (power) from Jesus both to dispel the darkness (blindness) of the world with proclamation of the Good News and to heal its multiple ailments with the diverse remedies available to her: physical, psychological, moral and spiritual. That is what defines the mission of the Church in our world today, as did Jesus 2021 years ago.
5. THE PROBLEM OF SUFFERING IN THE WORLD
When you read the papers or switch on your TV, you cannot help but be appalled by so much pain and suffering in the world. There is the perennial problem of why people, including the good, must suffer. Moreover, people wonder why some who seem to care nothing about God and religion apparently prosper, while the good and God-fearing people struggle with a host of trials and sufferings. In the first reading of this 5th Sunday, Job wondered, too, about why the good must suffer. He lost thousands of his cattle and his camels. His seven sons and three daughters were crushed to death after a violent wind struck their house. His wife taunted him to deny his God. Job was bitter, but he never lost his faith in God. The story of Job teaches that a good, faithful life in this world is NO GUARANTEE that you are immune from trials and sufferings. It also makes us understand that if one is faithful to God, and patient amidst sufferings, he/she will not go empty-handed.
Throughout history, people have sought solutions to suffering.
The Greek Stoics, for instance, insisted on an attitude of endurance in the face of pain. “Just bear it. Don’t complain,” they say.
The Buddhists, on the other hand, say that the best approach is to suppress all desire, experience nirvana, or oblivion. If you desire nothing, you cannot be hurt or disappointed.
The pessimist philosophers like Schopenhauer claim that the only thing that will end suffering is death. The earlier we die, the earlier we end our misery in the world.
Christianity sees it differently. JESUS CHRIST was concerned with the problem of human suffering in all its forms as shown in this Sunday’s gospel. We see him curing people who were afflicted with various diseases, including the simple fever of Peter’s mother-in-law (cf. Mk 1:30). Jesus did not stamp out sufferings altogether. He himself had to undergo terrible sufferings. Suffering, he taught, is part and parcel of human life.
To paraphrase the existentialist philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, “Suffering is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.”
By suffering Jesus gave meaning to suffering. He showed us that pain is not useless. If rightly offered to God, suffering becomes redemptive and can gain us eternal life. Obviously, it does not mean that we do not exert effort to remedy the problem of suffering anymore and just wait for the painless peace and happiness in heaven. If scientific and medical discoveries can put an end to pain, that is excellent. Or if a sick person can have access to the latest medicine for healing, by all means, that is welcome. But sufferings and sickness, whether physical or mental, and ultimately death, will remain with us. However, it is worth noting that, much of human suffering including sickness is man-made, and so could be avoided. For instance, uncontrolled drinking of liquor and heavy smoking cause a lot of sicknesses which often lead to death. A whole family suffers terribly due to domestic violence or marital infidelity. A nation suffers due to corrupt officials who plunder government funds. In short, there would be less pain and misery in the world if people were to respect the rights of others, if they were to be less selfish, more caring and sensitive about others’ needs and feelings. Jesus did not come to take away our suffering but to show us how to make it, in union with him, a means to eternal life. He came to bring happiness IN our human condition and not through exemption from it.
People spend their lives looking for what Jesus alone can do. He is the only one who can cleanse and truly change a human heart. He alone has the power to make a difference in our life where we most need a difference to be made. Yes, today in this context Jesus truly invites us: “Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mtt 11:28)