Sunday, February 04, 2024

Between Head, Hands & Heart

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

Picture: By Langa Hlatshwayo on Unsplash

My dear friends, what’s the difference between how and why? It is said that someone who has a why to live for can endure almost any how? So what’s the difference? Isn’t the question how typically a matter of the head and hands, of the informational and practical? And these days, technology has made it easy to find answers to this question. A simple search on YouTube, and we quickly discover how to bake a cake, or set up our phone… But the question why relates to the heart, to motivation and meaning, to choice and direction.

Keeping this in mind may help us ponder a key contrast in our scriptures today. The contrast between Job and Paul. In the first reading, Job is suffering terribly. And we know how. In quick succession, he has lost all his wealth, his children, and his own physical health. But that’s not all. In Job’s circle, people had only one explanation for suffering. They saw it as a punishment for sin. Yet Job is a righteous person. So why is he suffering? Unable to find a satisfactory answer, Job’s heart is wracked with anguish. He compares his life to that of a slave, who has nothing worthwhile for which to live.

In the second reading, like Job, Paul also likens himself to a slave, since he works hard to offer the Good News to others, but accepts no payment for it. Yet, unlike Job, Paul sees his toil as a duty and a responsibility, which he freely accepts. It’s something he’s motivated to do. I still do this, he says, for the sake of the gospel, to have a share in its blessings. Isn’t this the difference between Job and Paul? That, unlike Job, Paul has a good enough reason to live, to suffer, and to die. And that reason is Christ, to whom Paul has surrendered his heart.

Which helps us better appreciate what Jesus is doing in the gospel. At first glance, the Lord’s ministry seems focused only on addressing the different ways that people suffer. He cures diseases and casts out devils. But a closer look tells us that beyond dealing with the how’s of their suffering, Jesus is providing them with a powerful why. Immediately after he raises Simon’s mother-in-law from her sick bed, she is moved to wait on them. Her healing finds its meaning in service. And what Jesus offers others, he experiences himself. Although already enjoying success and popularity in Capernaum, after an extended period of prayer, Jesus freely chooses to move his ministry elsewhere, for that is why I came. And we know that this heartfelt appreciation of his own why will soon lead Jesus to Gethsemane, and Calvary, and beyond.

And what about us? Even if we may not be as righteous as Job, or suffer as terribly, don’t we often engage in a similar struggle? We may know well what we have to do and how, yet often can’t find the motivation to do it. Could it be that so much of our lives, and those of our children, is focused only on matters of the head and hands, that we too easily forget to pay enough attention to the state of our hearts?

Sisters and brothers, the Lord Jesus has already laid down his life for us. How might he also be offering us his heart, and what can we do to receive it more gratefully today?

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