Have you ever read the book of Job? Our first reading was a short excerpt from the Book of Job. That reading showed us the heart of a man who was depressed and weary with suffering. Job complained that "life is a drudgery." "People are like slaves who long for the shade." He lamented that he had been "living months of misery and many troubled nights." That his "life was passing quickly and coming to an end without hope." His closing words were “I shall not see happiness again.”
Have you ever felt like that? I know that many people here have felt that way at some point in time. Some of you here are feeling that way right now. People suffer physically because of relationships, or seemingly hopeless situations, or physical illness, all kinds of things. Around the world there are whole groups of people who have been suffering horribly for generations and who see no end in sight for their suffering. The horrific violence by the Islamic State in Nigeria, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq is causing so much suffering and death, and leaving countless numbers of people in desperate and extreme situations.
The suffering that so many people endure in various ways is truly heart-breaking. And what is the most tragic truth about it all is that the majority of human suffering is caused by our own sinful choices. Natural disasters and other accidents don’t break our hearts nearly as much as the violence and death that comes from evil choices people make. As much as it breaks our hearts, it breaks God’s heart even more. And God is always moved with compassion for us.
This is why Jesus was born for us. Just a month ago we were finishing the Christmas season – remembering the story of the birth of our Savior. The incredible mystery of the incarnation is that God chose to become one of us. He was conceived, entering into the womb of the virgin. Almighty God became so small and helpless in the womb. What an example of the perfect humility of God. He was born for us and in his birth he manifested his glory in the most amazingly humble of ways. Jesus is truly the compassion of God for us.
And in these first weeks of Ordinary Time Jesus once again shows us the compassion of God!
Consider the gospel story today. Simon’s mother in law was sick with a fever. She was too weak, She probably felt a bit like Job from the first reading. Those of us here who have been desperately sick before know for sure what she felt like, lying there in her bed, helpless.unable to move, and in a desperate situation.
What made all the difference was when Jesus went into her house. And isn’t that the truth? When Jesus comes into the house things start to change. So when Jesus came into the house he took her by the hand and helped her up. It is interesting to note that this little scene is yet another fulfillment of messianic promises. In Isaiah 42:6 God promised to take his chosen people by the hand. The word used for help in the gospel is actually the Greek word for “raising up.” It is the same verb used when Jesus commanded a dead girl to arise – an amazing story later on in Mark chapter 5. The word is used again in Mark chapter 14 to describe Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead.
This “raising up” is the promise of Jesus to us as well. Sometimes we might feel like Job did during his time of suffering – that life is nothing but suffering and there will never be happiness again. Sometimes we might feel like Simon’s mother-in-law during her time of sickness and helplessness – that we can’t make ourselves well again.
But something changed when Jesus was in the house! With Jesus there is a totality and completeness of his love and mercy. Notice the words that the gospel of Mark used to describe it. The whole town gathers; all the sick are brought to him. He drives out demons in the whole of Galilee. Everyone is looking for him. His love and mercy are superabundant for us. He never tires of raising us up.
Jesus is in the house! He is come to us in power. By our own baptism he healed and raised us to live in his presence. By his body and blood, soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist he promises us the totality of healing and wholeness in heaven. And we get a foretaste of that even here on earth. Jesus is in the house and he sees us with tender compassion. He fulfills the promise of Psalm 147 that says that “he heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Oh, how great is the Lord our God who comes to us and who saves us in every way.
So what is our response to this amazing grace that has been given to us? Simon’s mother-in-law shows us the way. As Jesus’s hands reached out to her and raised her up, so her hands were strengthened to serve Jesus.
Therefore we gather here to be strengthened to serve Jesus who raises us up. Jesus comes to us in so many ways. He is present to us in all those who gather in his Holy Name. Will we serve him by serving all those who are gathered here today? Will we love the church that gathers through our own humble and loving service? Jesus is present to us in those who come to us for help. Will we love that man or woman who comes to us in need by helping and serving them? There are times when the hand of Jesus that raises somebody up is our own hand. And when Jesus works with us to bring his compassion and love to others, then our lives become a true act of thanksgiving and praise, like St. Paul described in today’s Epistle.
We have good news to share brothers and sisters. Jesus is in the house. Jesus comes to raise us up. He loves us. His mercy for us is endless And through us, his church, he brings hope into the world once again.