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Ordinary Time 5 (B)
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Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1. Job 7, 1-4 and 6-7
  • Today is one of only two times in which we hear the book of Job in the mass.  And what do we overhear but a tiny part of a great ancient debate about the meaning of human life.  
  • Job spoke:  I am not permitted the luxury of background, so I must speak the name Job clearly and forcefully.  My listeners may then remember all his misfortunes, and follow along with me as we are thrust into the heart of the lament: Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?  As with all rhetorical questions, I will state these opening questions as facts.  And they are more than facts; Job has lived them to the full.
  • Usually the first reading points toward the Gospel passage where the church will find its fulfillment in the words and actions of Jesus.  This time, besides the tie-in with Jesus, I am reminded starkly of the lot of parents and children in our own day who live those unrelenting words: without hope.  Who will speak for them?  How can I, myself affluent, repeat their complaint to an assembly of mostly affluent Christians who either are wrapped in their own hardships and turn away from the suffering of others, or perhaps pile on those other people further hardship?  If Malala Yousafzai were here today she would know a way. 
  • The words of Job sound to me like an eloquent speaker composing as he goes.  He starts with a general statement: Are not his days those of hirelings?  Then he muses on slaves and hirelings – a far cry from the laborers in the vineyard! 
  • Job compares his fate with that of people in general.  So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights.  He cannot even look forward to a restful sleep.  The night drags on – I will emphasize all four words to bring out that reality.  But life itself passes rapidly, swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and at this point my voice can take on a whirring high pitch. 
  • The reading ends on a firm conviction.  My days are like the wind.  I shall not see happiness again.  Job is challenging listeners to prove him wrong.  I could respond with the verses of Psalm 39: "like a breath, and who will remember?"
  • Central point: Job addresses an experience that is obvious to all who want to see it.  Each verse that follows reinforces his position.
  • Message for our assembly: The cries of Job have not lost their force after so many centuries.  Do Christians care any more?  Can our assembly be content praying that the poor of this world will be fed and clothed?  The letter of James also judges harshly such one-dimensional Christianity.
  • I will challenge myself: To pray that I may have the voice to embody the misery of those our societies are marginalizing.  If I hum to myself the spiritual ‘I been ‘buked and I been scorned,’ that may help.

 

2. I Corinthians 9, 16-19 and 22-23

  • If I preach the gospel  Readings like this are made for lectors and homilists, especially if we are not paid for our ministry.  As we repeat the words of the apostle, we have every reason to apply them to ourselves.  Now we just have to apply ourselves to the convoluted phrases in the passage, right? 
  • Here is the background.  Some of the first missionary evangelists would ask for families to take them in and cover their room and board.  Today, full-time ministers and administrators receive a salary.  Paul admits that such recompense would be his full right in the gospel.  But there were ministers then and now who have outside sources of income.  Paul had his tent business, while many of us have our weekday jobs.  So he, and we also, can offer the gospel free of charge.
  • Now to the convoluted passages.  In the first sentence I hear about people doing self-promotion, in contrast with just doing their good work routinely.  Today we have far too many of those types in all the churches, unfortunately, and I can imagine such parasites back then in places like Corinth.  The apostle declared that he didn’t go in for that, stating that an obligation has been imposed on me. 
  • Now, since Christ has put him under obligation, it becomes a question of the apostle’s own willingness to be there.  If I do this willingly, I have a recompense, namely that his ministry is free of conditions that he might impose.  Unwillingly?  He is entrusted with a stewardship, in other words, accountable.
  • In the second part of today’s reading, the apostle shows me how far that responsibility for others has taken him.  I have made myself a slave to all.  I remember the hymn in Philippians and how it describes Christ as taking the form of a slave.  His approach: to become all things to all.  The goal: to win over as many as possible, to save at least some.
  • What is in it for him?  He does it for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.  If our life as a church – not our family or our daily work – is the primary reality, then we can declare these words just as confidently as we did the opening words of the passage.
  • Central point: Ministry in the church is a matter of commitment.  Matters of just wage and working conditions must be honored, but this is not about any old job!
  • The message for our assembly: The reading has nothing to do with tithing or pledging.  Paul had outside employment, as do many ministers, but we are dealing today with the level of commitment and dedication we bring to our ministry.
  • I will challenge myself: To read with a spirit of grateful thanks that I share the same calling as the apostle.

 

Gospel. Mark 1, 29-39

  • I hear again of a ministry.  This time it is the ministry of Jesus, preaching and driving out many demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
  • I also hear of a provincial phenomenon.  Mark sounds like oral tradition: The whole town was gathered at the door.  But I cannot imagine Jesus as a glad hander or a mass media creature.  He will have time for each one, as he cured many who were sick and drove out many demons.  I will dwell on this quality time, for I believe that Jesus himself invented the concept.
  • We value our rest and recuperation and wait until the last possible moment to awake and start a new day.  Jesus, in contrast, rose very early before dawn and went to a deserted place where he prayed.  When we hear about Jesus, or holy men and women in general, are we encouraged to imitate their example?  Let me read this sentence as if we all could get up and pray in the late night silence.
  • Climax: The words of Jesus describing his mission: Let us go on to the nearby villagesFor this purpose have I come. 
  • Message for our assembly: Let us get to know Jesus, the man for others.
  • I will challenge myself: To capture in my speech my own admiration for the Son of God come among us, and also the wonder of the apostles as they told Jesus: Everyone is looking for you. 

Word to Eucharist: We are looking, too; that is why we come today and walk forward to the table.  Let us find what we are looking for.  It would in part shine in the faces of those walking with us.

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