Job 7.1-7, 1 Cor 9.16-23, Mark 1.29-39
There was a man who was not feeling very well at all and so he went to visit the doctors and get a good looking over.
When he got home, after being poked and prodded and subjected to all sorts of tests, his wife asked him what the doctors had learned.
“Well they seemed completely baffled,” said the man, “they wouldn’t tell me anything useful at all, although I did over hear one of them say that they’d find out for sure at the autopsy!”
Just goes to show that not all news is good news. Unfortunately bad things happen to good people, like the tragic news of the couple from Brisbane who were expecting their first child and who were run down and killed by a drug driver just recently, or the four children who were killed in a similar way just a year ago in Sydney.
Sadly, tragically, sooner or later, every heart gets broken, and even the youngest and tiniest among us can know what truly big hurt feels like.
Just in case we’d forgotten, Job reminded us in this morning’s first reading.
He’d lost everything it seemed, his wealth, his health, all of his children, nothing was left to him, and so he cried out:
“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good.”
What, in the grand scheme of the universe, is a person to do with loss like this?
What are we to do with hurts that break our hearts, especially when we know that they are hurts we didn’t earn?
The childish side of us understandably wants to get angry and shout at God, “I did my part. I went to church, played by the rules, and kept my “insurance policy” with you paid up in full, O God! How could you let me down like this?”
The childish side of thinks that we can somehow manipulate God to intervene if we curry favour with the divine through our little bribes, our pious prayers and happy hymns, with our well scrubbed faces and our well polished lives.
It seems silly but there are so many Christians who, whether they acknowledge it or not, think in this very unhelpful way.
And when, inevitably, the bad times come, the childish side of us gets angry, and walks away, either literally or metaphorically and then that anger slowly poisons our life and kills our love.
In every church or place of worship around the world there are always seats that are left empty by the angry souls who walked away from faith when they realised that they couldn’t buy good luck from God.
Possibly worse, there are those who remain but have hardened their hearts to the hurts and pains of this world, both their own pains and the hurts and pains of others.
Either situation can leave us trapped and caught in deepening cycles of depression and despair, the same depression and despair that we can feel flowing from the moving words of Job.
Yet it is precisely this seemingly inescapable pit of despair that Jesus Christ came to liberate every human being from, to free us from the clutches of evil that entangle our hearts until they cannot truly feel or love in the way that God loves, love the way Jesus came to show us.
Throughout the Gospels, including today’s, what we can find is not some divine answer to the question about pain and suffering. There simply is no neat answer that explains it all.
What we find instead is the divine response to suffering and pain.
In Jesus we find the definitive understanding that unlike how Job and the ancients thought and how so many still sadly think, that suffering in NOT a punishment from God, no way, no how.
Suffering is a mark of the incursion of evil into the world, and as such is in no way part of God’s plan for creation, but nevertheless it is now an unavoidable part this universe.
So no, we don’t see Jesus answer the timeless question put by Job and repeated by so many as to why there is suffering, pain, or anguish, what we see Jesus do instead is to response to the pain, not the question.
In our gospel today we see Jesus taking action to try and help those who are suffering, we see him working to do good and make a difference in people’s lives, we see him proclaiming a message that it is possible to experience the reign of God in our lives here and now and that our thoughts and actions need to be directed towards realising this.
In a nutshell: Believe and Repent.
What we see in Jesus is the compassionate, tender and loving heart of God, acting on earth to bring comfort, healing and wholeness.
And we are called to follow and do the same.
We may seldom be able to cure the sick, or to magically fix every problem that we see within our society which continues to exploit and neglect the vulnerable and marginalised.
But what is within our grasp is the power to care.
And genuine caring, caring that leads to actions and our real presence with those who are suffering, not just our sentimentality, has real power to heal and make lives whole again.
Just as Jesus returned those who were sick to fullness of life, so too can we, through our tender actions brought about by compassionate hearts, create amazing healing and restoration for those who have lost hope in love and life.
This is the gospel that St Paul said he could not do anything but proclaim.
This is the good news that we too are called to share and proclaim with others, not letting anything get in the way.
Casting aside our traditions and cultural customs if need be in order to get this message across to others. Because the traditions and customs are just that, and when compared to the liberating gift of grace that God gives to all, they are nothing.
Paul saw that, let us pray that we, and those in positions of power and authority within our churches, can see it too, may we cast off anything that weighs us down from sharing the good news, anything that hardens our hearts to the plight of others, so that we too can help set others free and share in the blessings of the Gospel.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.