Sunday, February 07, 2021

Of Burdens, Bonds & Blessings

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Readings: Job 7:1-4,6-7; Psalm 146(147):1-6; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19,22-23; Mark 1:29-39

Video: Ron Wells @ YouTube

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother… My dear friends, are you familiar with these words? Apart from being the title of a song from the 1970s, some of us who may also recognise them as the motto of Boys Town. We may recall their story. One of the early residents of the home was a polio-stricken boy named Howard, who had been abandoned by his family. He had to wear heavy leg braces. And since he had great difficulty walking, several of the older boys took turns to carry him up and down the stairs. One day, Father Flanagan, the home’s founder, asked one of them if doing this was hard. To which the boy replied, He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother.

Unpolished words. Yet how beautifully they express the awesome ability of bonds of kinship to transform burdens into blessings. This is what we find in our readings today.

In the gospel, Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed, burdened by a fever, but Jesus heals her. And the writer takes pains to describe how he does it. He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up. It’s as though healing happens through connection. Bonding with her, Jesus transforms the burden of fever into the blessing of service. And a similar thing happens to the Lord himself. After a hectic day in Capernaum, prayerful communion with his heavenly Father gives the Lord the energy he needs to continue serving elsewhere.

But if bonds can lighten burdens, the reverse is also true. The breaking of bonds can cause terrible suffering. Isn’t this the experience of Job in the first reading? After losing not just his wealth and health, but also all his beloved children, poor Job is paralysed with grief. He compares himself to a slave, toiling under the heat of the sun, and to a hired workman, who finds no meaning in his labour, beyond the money he expects for it. For the bereaved, life itself feels like a painful burden.

Even so, the psalm reminds us that God heals the broken-hearted and binds up all their wounds. The Lord Jesus has power not just to cure ailing bodies, but also to relieve burdened spirits. Isn’t this Paul’s experience in the second reading? Like Job, Paul also refers to himself as a slave. Yet Paul sees his own slavery not as a burden, but as a gift. The bond that Christ has established with him energises Paul to preach the gospel, so as to have a share in its blessings.

Just as bereavement burdens, bonding heals. Perhaps this is why Covid-stress is so real. Even if we may not admit it, the loss of our usual ways of connecting – with self, with others, and with God – weighs heavily on us. Still, this too can be a blessing, if it awakens us to how important these bonds really are. If it motivates us to find other creative ways to cultivate and nourish them. And if it inspires us to make our own these words from the song we mentioned earlier… If I’m laden at all, I’m laden with sadness, that everyone's heart isn't filled with the gladness of love for one another

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. These unvarnished words contain a simple yet profound truth. Sisters and brothers, what must we do to deepen our experience of it today?

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