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Sunday 5, Year B

There are three main characters in today’s readings. Taking them in chronological order, they are Job, Jesus and Paul.

The book of Job, remember, is a parable about innocent suffering. Its point is to show that trust in God in the midst of suffering will eventually perfect the one suffering and bring the suffering to an end. In the reading we heard, Job is not doing too well: he’s in the depths of depression because of his suffering. How did he get there? God held Job in high esteem and commented to the Devil that Job was a truly just man. But the Devil said to God that Job was only just because he was wealthy and had a big family. Take these away, said the Devil, and then we will see what kind of man Job really is. God accepted the challenge and let the Devil destroy Job’s possessions and his family and inflicts him with a terrible skin disease. So, Job is at rock bottom. In our reading, he is expressing his misery almost to the point of despair. There seems to be no relief, no way out, no hope of ever again having joy.

Probably many of those who were brought to Simon’s house for Jesus to cure them were experiencing what Job had experienced. Many were in the grip of disease, paralysis, unclean spirits, or deep spiritual and psychological conditions which oppressed them. I bet many of them knew the Book of Job very well. But, as would happen to Job towards the end of his story, things not only turned out for the better for these sick: they are completely transformed. In Job’s case, God eventually rewards his faithful trust and restores his fortunes. In the case of the sick in the Gospel, Jesus heals and delivers from evil so that they can have a normal life.

But the transformation is even greater when Paul meets Jesus. Whereas Job and the sick received the restoration of very tangible goods which lifted their spirits, Paul received much more. Remember that Paul was a very observant Jew. But he was also locked into something much worse than Job’s misfortunes or the illnesses of the sick in the Gospel. Paul was in spiritual darkness, an enemy of the Church and therefore of Christ; he was infected by the resistance to God which had crept into the Jewish religious leadership. What was worse, he did not even know it.

And so, when Christ appears to him en route to Damascus, Paul is thrown to the ground, not only physically, but spiritually. And he spends some days in deep crisis, unable to eat, blind and most probably in great spiritual pain at the realisation of his former pride. But Jesus does not leave him in that condition for long. Jesus appeared to Paul not simply to show off his power, but because He had a mission for Paul. He wanted to take the energies Paul had been using against the Church and put them at the service of the Church. And it’s clear from our second reading today that Paul, some years after his conversion, is still powerfully proclaiming the Gospel of salvation, with enthusiasm, with determination and in total selflessness.

We can all find ourselves in the situation of Job, of the sick in the Gospel or of Paul. The challenge is to trust in God, like Job, to go to Jesus, like the sick, or to let Jesus come to meet you, like Paul. When I talk of trust in Jesus or of going to Jesus, I am definitely not suggesting a kind of make-believe, magical cure. God himself in his providence has provided us today with medicine and medical professionals for all manner of physical and mental ill-health. If someone spent hours in front of the tabernacle waiting for Jesus to cure them of an illness, the only thing He’s liable to say to them is “go and see your GP.” God works through others to help us. What I do mean by going to Jesus and trusting in Him is to let Him into your heart and mind and to live your distress in His company. We all need support when we are struggling and certainly that means most immediately the support of loved ones. But our loved ones, too, are God’s gift to us. By bringing our suffering before the Lord, we envelope our loved ones, too, with His care. Great love can be the fruit of a time of suffering, forging deeper bonds of union and communion with each other and with the Lord.

When you invite the Lord into your suffering, whatever it may be, you will find it easier as time goes on to think about your situation the way He thinks about it. Jesus is called the man of suffering. He took and takes still our infirmities upon himself and by His wounds we are healed. This means that the only true place to bring our sufferings, the only place they can find meaning and serve a purpose is on the Cross. Suffering was never God’s will for us, but once it became a reality in the world, He took it on Himself and transformed its destructive power into the power of salvation. To invite the Lord into our own suffering is to realise that, in the end, it is not our own, but His, suffering. And that when we suffer, He is giving us a share in the power of His love which transforms suffering into love. St. Paul once said that he rejoiced in his sufferings because by them he was completing in his own flesh the sufferings of Christ’s body, the Church.

Does that mean we should not go to the GP? Not at all. But when the GP or the consultant can do no more; or if the type of suffering is moral or spiritual or in some way beyond the powers of doctor, psychologist or priest: then bringing your suffering to Christ, letting Him into it, becomes all the more necessary and beneficial.

How do I bring my suffering to Jesus? Well, take today’s Gospel. Imagine you are one of the sick or afflicted in Capernaum that night. You have an idea where Simon’s house is, where Jesus is staying. You put on your cloak or your family put you on a stretcher. You’ve heard that Jesus heals, that He is very kind and compassionate, that no-one ever leaves Him unhelped. Your heart is beating fast with a mixture of hope and apprehension. You make your way, possibly ashamed of your suffering as many are with or without reason. You see the crowd, maybe feeling a tinge of disappointment in case you don’t get to Him. But you do. You have His single and undivided attention. His face radiates an indescribable peace and concern for you. You tell him your problem. Then you are still, and He is still. You hear and see nothing and no-one else but Him. You stay there in silence. He reaches out his hand. From your head downwards, you sense His Spirit fill you.

In the Gospel, we presume, but don’t actually know, that everyone was cured. In your case, having gone through that personal re-enactment of a sick person going to Jesus, you most probably will not come away with your suffering gone. But you will never again be able to live your suffering in the same way as before. When you yield yourself, suffering and all, in such intimate encounter with the Lord, His Spirit will enter you and will heal, maybe not your suffering, but the way you live it, the meaning you give it. He may not heal your body, but will heal your soul, even to the point that you will see your physical suffering as a means for your own spiritual healing and for that of others. In your own way, you will have become another Job or another Paul or, indeed, another you. In the encounter with Jesus you will have encountered yourself more truly, more deeply and more lovingly. Your suffering will have brought you salvation.