THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
(Job 7: 1-4.6-7; I Corinthians 9: 16-19.22-23; Mark 1: 29-39)
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a novel written by the Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn. It follows the activities of a prisoner in a gulag, the Russian prison camp in Siberia. The story tells of the pains of living in such a place such as the difficulty of laying bricks with freezing temperatures. It includes a couple of small joys like finding a piece of metal that could be shaped into a tool. We find something similar in the gospels of last Sunday and today. Between the two the evangelist Mark describes a day in the ministry of Jesus.
The story began with Jesus entering the synagogue at Capernaum. There he cast out an unclean spirit, which could be called ignorance, with his teachings. We are grateful to have faith in such a great teacher like Jesus. His teachings bring hope to our lives.
Today we appreciate him for his sympathy with people. He first heals Simon's mother-in-law. After that, he does not fail to help many other afflicted ones. In a way his healings extend his preaching on the practical level. His message proclaims God's love for the people. Now he shows this love by easing the burdens that men and women carry.
Interestingly, when others try to identify who Jesus is, he does not allow it. When the unclean spirit calls him "the holy one of God", he responds: "’Be quiet… ’" Further on in the gospel Peter will name him "the Messiah." Jesus will respond by telling the twelve that they should not tell this to anyone. Only when he dies on the cross can his full identity be revealed. Seeing him suffer without cursing anyone, the Roman centurion says, "Indeed, this man was the Son of God."
The gospel’s effort to cover up the identity of Jesus is sometimes called the "messianic secret." It seems that the secret is kept so that men do not misunderstand Jesus. If they knew that he is the Son of God, they would try to crown him king. Worse still, they would form an army to drive the Romans out of Israel. But the son of God did not come to be flattered as a temporary king nor did he come to defeat foreign armies. No, his mission -- the will of God his Father -- is to overcome sin. When they see him suffering on the cross, dying and risen from the dead, they can understand his mission.
Today many who do not know the story of Jesus would have another objective in having the son of God in their midst. They would blame him for allowing Covid and all the other evils that afflict the people. For this reason, many make fun of Christians for believing in a God who does not save them from wars, pandemics, and other catastrophes.
How can we respond to these criticisms? First, we have to affirm the goodness of God. He gives us life, family, and many other benefits that are often taken for granted. Second, we have to realize the precariousness of our situation precisely because of the gift of free will. Men can make a lot of trouble on their own. However, they are not alone but are accompanied by dark spiritual forces that multiply evil in the world. And finally, we know that evil will not win. In the end, God, who has already conquered evil through the work of Jesus, will make all things well.
In between time it is up to us to believe in Jesus and follow his will. Paul says in the second reading today: "'Woe to me if I don't preach the gospel!'" We want to echo Paul saying, "Woe to us if we don't live the gospel!"