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The answer to Job’s suffering was the assurance that God was with him

Fifth Sunday of the Year: Job 7:1-4 & 6-7; Ps 147; 1 Cor 9:16-19 & 22-23; Mk 1:29-39

By on Sunday, 5 February 2012

“Is not man’s life on earth nothing more than pressed service, his time no better than hired drudgery?” The Book of Job, an expression of painful honesty in the face of suffering, is not afraid to voice its darkest thoughts. It is true, of course, that the sufferings of Job were on an epic scale. Through a series of catastrophes Job lost everything. Few of us are likely to suffer the same fate. The true intention of the Book is to lead us to reflect, with Job, on the darkness that can so easily overtake our lives.

Honesty is surely Job’s first lesson. Often we hide our bleakest thoughts, possibly thinking that we should cope with life and its many reverses. Job made no such attempt. With excruciating honesty he spoke of life as pressed service and drudgery. He named his delusion as the very foundations of faith seemed to totter. He spoke of restless and endless nights, of days that vanished without a shred of hope.

Job’s outpouring was indeed bleak, but it was honest. His words articulated the universal condition of sinful humanity as it seeks to come to terms with its pain and suffering, its lost hopes and temptation to despair. The same honesty demands that we ourselves, when darkness inevitably comes our way, should acknowledge our wretchedness. Often, like Job, we long for explanations that will make sense of our pain. Job received no such explanation in the normal sense. He never ceased to pray, even though his prayer was frequently in the form of complaint. “Remember that my life is but a breath, and that my eyes will never again see joy.”

Ultimately the answer to Job’s suffering was not an explanation, but the assurance that God was with him. Our greatest fear is not so much that we might suffer, but that we might suffer alone. Job represented that desolate cry at the heart of sinful humanity, a cry that longs for healing, that aches to be rescued from its isolation.

The same longing greeted Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel Jesus healed first the man possessed of an unclean spirit and then Simon’s mother-in-law. The description of the latter, though brief, has a touching intimacy. “He went to her, took her by the hand, and helped her up. And the fever left her and she began to wait on them.”

Each and every healing speaks of the God, who, in Jesus, reaches out to a broken world. Job had longed to break through the isolation of his pain. Christ, as the healing of the Father, embraced that pain throughout his ministry. The response of the crowd, reflecting our own brokenness, was immediate. “That evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed of devils. The whole town came crowding round the door.”

At the beginning of his ministry Jesus reached out to the multitude attracted to Simon’s house. Here, at last, was the Messiah who would bind up the broken hearted. By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus would bring that healing to the whole world.

Job had been assured that the Lord would be with him in his suffering. Whatever darkness we experience in our lives, the Risen Lord is the assurance that God is not only with us: through his death he embraces that pain and, in his resurrection, brings the promise of healing.