(5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 4, 2018 Mass Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39)
Love begets love; he who receives much, gives much. In this Sunday’s readings, we learn that God’s special grace is always followed by a special response from the grace recipient, whether willingly or unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly.
The passage from Mark is a scene of high drama: Simon’s mother-in-law, who has just benefited from Jesus’ miraculous cure, promptly rises to serve Jesus, the person who has served her only a moment ago. Similarly, St. Paul, whose persecution of the early Church was murderous and unrelenting, is somehow transformed into the apostle to the Gentiles after his miraculous conversion on the Damascus Road. His conviction to follow Christ is such that preaching the gospel is not an option to him but “an obligation”. “[W]oe to me if I do not preach it!”, he professes.
As passionate and determined as St. Paul is in preaching and even suffering for the gospel, he can’t outdo Jesus, his role model and the reason for all his missionary works. Not only does Jesus cure Simon’s mother-in-law during the day, he goes on to cure others who are “ill or possessed by demons” in the evening. According to Mark, “[t]he whole town was gathered at the door”. It must have been quite a busy evening for our Lord! But he will not give himself plenty of rest just because he has had a long day. “Rising very early before dawn”, he leaves for a deserted place to pray. On learning from Simon that people are looking for him, he decides to go to the nearby villages in Galilee to preach and heal some more. “For this purpose have I come,” he explains.
The message of this Sunday is a resounding one for me personally. It’s been more than two decades since my own “high drama” conversion. Like Simon’s mother-in-law, I was “miraculously cured” - from my pride, which for all practical purposes was like a powerful and piercing nail that had literally pinned me down to a world big enough to hold only my oversized ego. Like St. Paul, my encounter with Christ was illuminating and intense - one that worked me hard and opened my eyes to behold the beauty and wisdom of the Church’s teachings. Like both characters of this Sunday’s readings, I responded to the amazing graces that God lavished on me in a manner that surprised even myself: evangelizing and preaching the gospel non-stop for more than two decades. To this day, my passion remains unabated even as my aging body is showing signs that it’s finding it hard to keep up! Like St. Paul, I must hasten to add, “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!” So many years later, this whole experience of conversion remains just as inexplicable and startling to me as when it first happened. All I can say is: Lord, how great Thou art!
But what about Job, the miserable and lost character in reading number one – the person “filled with restlessness” and for whom the days were “without hope”? We haven’t discussed him yet, have we? No, we haven’t. But, er, that sounded like me before my conversion...