Job 7:1-4, 6-7; I Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39
The 14th century speaks of catastrophes. Some of them man-made, such as the Hundred Years' War, the Great Famine and the Black Death. All caused millions of deaths. Together they subjected the population of medieval Europe to tremendous strains, leading many people to challenge old institutions and doubt traditional values. These events altered the path of European development in many areas.
The Black Death, the most severe epidemic in human history, ravaged Europe from 1347-1351. It is thought that as many as 25 million people (one third of Europe's population at the time) were killed during this short period. Thousands of people died each week. This plague killed entire families at a time and destroyed at least 1,000 villages. Once afamily member had contracted the disease, the entire household was doomed to die. Parents abandoned their children, and parent-less children roamed the streets in search for food. Boccaccio said it best"... brother was forsaken by brother, nephew by uncle, brother by sister and often husband by wife, and fathers and mothers were found to abandon their own children..." If the people weren't dead they ran away in vain attempts to save themselves. Victims, delirious with pain, often lost their sanity. Life was in total chaos. The Black Death struck the European people with very little warning. Physicians and philosophers harmed rather than helped. They did not understand the causes of infectious diseases, or how they spread. It is no wonder that the people looked to priests and story-tellers for answers, rather than doctors. They did not know where this sudden cruel death had come from. And they did not know whether it would ever go away. The Plague was a disaster without a parallel.
Why man has to suffer; get sick and die are the problems that continue to nag people today just as it did humanity from the beginning. The first reading tells the story of Job. Job was a rich man and at the same time sincere and honest. He had been blessed with sons and daughters. But when Job least expected, misfortune struck: his children died, his possessions were taken away, and a repugnant disease affected him. Job never got an answer for his suffering.
But when the sick and suffering met Jesus, they found that their suffering brought them closer to God. Three times we have seen Jesus healing people. First he healed in the synagogue; second, he healed in the house of his Peter; and then he healed in the street. Jesus recognized the claim of everyone. Whenever there was trouble Jesus was close to them. This is the first message that today’s readings give us. Whenever we are in trouble God is closer to us. Zac Smith was struck by cancer. But he found this moral disease as a means for God coming closer to him. In his story, Zac Smith explains how he is praising God for cancer. “Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me” said Zac Smith. Those words may seem shocking, but that’s the message that Zac Smith left behind in his video before passing away on May 16th, 2010. "A sick bed teaches more than any sermon." Says Thomas Watson
Secondly, sickness brings us closer to God. The people flocked to Jesus. The evening found Peter’s house besieged with crowds seeking Jesus’ healing touch. The people of Capernaum waited until the sun had set to bring their sick to Jesus. There was no way in which Jesus could shut the door. A great doctor has said that the duty of medicine is “sometimes to heal, often to afford relief, and always to bring consolation.” That duty was always upon Jesus. And today the same duty is demanded of us. In the midst of the terrible suffering of a loved one, it is sometimes impossible to find God, because it is here that God enters us in extreme and unfamiliar ways.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861) was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both England and the United States during her lifetime. Her 1844 volume Poems made her one of the most popular writers in the country at the time and inspired Robert Browning to write to her, telling her how much he loved her work. Elizabeth had become an invalid and had suffered for many years, unable even to lift her head from her pillow. But then one day she was visited by Robert Browning. It was love at first sight. In just one visit, he brought her so much joy and happiness that she lifted her head. On his second visit, she sat up in bed. On the third visit, they started dating and soon got married! Love can heal us physically. No wonder, as today’s gospel tells us, people were healed by coming into physical contact with Jesus. "When God puts a burden upon you He puts His own arms underneath." Says Charles Spurgeon
Thirdly, Sickness brings us closer to our brothers. Those who suffer much in life are more compassionate with the weakness of others. An enthusiastic student asks his teacher: "Master, what can I do to help all the suffering beings in this world?"
The teacher answers: "Indeed, what can you do?"
So, even if I am genuinely concerned about the welfare of others, when I am hopelessly lost in my own problems, trying to deal with the world, how can I help others? I would be like jumping into a river where someone is drowning, when I cannot swim myself... Therefore, I should first learn to swim myself, learn to deal with my problems. The realization comes: "change the world, start with myself".
The Indian saint Shantideva taught:
"Whatever joy there is in this world
All comes from desiring others to be happy,
And whatever suffering there is in this world,
All comes from desiring myself to be happy.”
Our care should be expressed in deeds and not just in words by rendering material aid to those in need of it, and by bringing comfort to sick people through visits, and encouragement to the family. We need to live for others as Jesus did: Jesus was a man for others, sharing what he had with others. Let us take up this challenge by sharing love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness with others. Instead of considering life as dull and boring let us live our lives as Jesus did, full of dynamism and zeal for the glory of God.