A reflection on the Sunday readings for February 7, 2021 — the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
If there ever is a time when I want to reflect on the book of Job, this isn’t that week. Job experiences make him reflect on life and say, “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” (Job 7:1). Drudgery is one of my favorite words in the English language, but it is also a distressing word. Drudgery is an immensely burdensome state of being. I have just returned from home leaving my eighty-four-year-old mother behind. I wish I could put into words the sadness, the grief, the heartache that my mother and I feel. As I left home this time, I did not feel that I was merely leaving home. I felt that I was abandoning her. Yes, my life still has meaning, my ministry is still my life, and I am surrounded by very supportive people—but at this moment, life feels like drudgery. My mother feels the same. My mother and I have our share of drudgery and you have yours. And certainly, the pandemic makes all this even harder. Perhaps I would not be wrong if I said that right now we are in global drudgery. Drudgery is real.
In this reflection, I would like to offer Christian antidotes for drudgery or some antidotes to address the days of our lives when life seems like a never-ending burden. My inspiration for these antidotes is today’s scripture readings.
Never Lose Sight of God amidst Drudgery
In the Biblical canon, the book of Job is found in the part of the Bible we know as wisdom literature. The wisdom tradition in the Hebrew Bible tries to deal with the mysteries of life. And there is no mystery as confounding as the meaning of life. One of the mysteries that Job deals with is that sometimes there is not a compelling answer when we are confronted with drudgery and meaninglessness. The only answer, and let me repeat, the only answer he has is the meek surrender that he makes before God saying, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered. I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know” (Job 42:2). The bottom line is that while Job does not find a clear answer to his questions, his continuing back-and-forth with God becomes the dim candlelight in the midst of despair and drudgery. His back-and-forth tells us that in the darkest darkness Job does not lose sight of God. Rather, his poignant and pointed arguments with God were indicative of his continuing relationship with God. He did not have all the answers but still engages God in the way he knew best, and it finally became his hope.
It would be preposterous to compare Job’s life with my mom’s, but her drudgery is real. Her life is not easy at the moment. After dad’s passing away two years back, she finds herself alone and away from her children. Aging and age-related issues confront her. The pandemic isolation has made it all even worse. Drudgery would be a good way to describe her condition. But her candlelight in the midst of darkness is her God. Mom wakes up, breathes, and closes her eyes at night in God’s presence. She does not have all the answers, but God is her hope, a candlelight in the midst of drudgery.
May I suggest, then, that a Job-like relationship, or a relationship with God like my mom’s is the first antidote to drudgery.
Solidarity – An Antidote to Drudgery
There is a verse in today’s second reading, that—even though Paul uses it in a very different context—provides us a second antidote to drudgery. Paul says, “To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. (1 Cor 9:22). We call this solidarity! Paul was expressing his solidarity with those he ministered to. He became all things to all people in order to offer them Christian hope. We have an example of this kind of solidarity also in today’s Gospel reading. As Jesus went about his ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God, he was confronted with the drudgery in people’s lives. And he did something about it. In today’s Gospel reading he stretched out his hand and grasped Peter’s mother-in-law’s hand and healed her (Mk 1:31). This is the perfect image of solidarity. We also hear in today’s gospel reading that, that very evening when Jesus visited Peter’s home, “The whole town was gathered at the door” (Mk 1:33). Jesus opened his heart towards all those who needed him and healed them (Mk 1:34). In fact, Jesus’ entire ministry, which reached its climax on the cross, can be understood as an act of solidarity with a humanity in need of hope.
The second antidote to drudgery and meaninglessness is solidarity. Solidarity simply means that just like Paul and Jesus, we stretch out our hand to help one another and alleviate the drudgery they experience. It also means that we too are not afraid to take someone’s hand when it is offered to us. Solidarity lets people know that they are not alone and that together we can bring and hope to one another. Solidarity is a powerful antidote against drudgery.
Mercy, Compassion, Fraternity
My third point is closely related to my second. One of the best examples of Paul and Jesus-like solidarity in our time is Pope Francis. Whenever he visits a country, he makes sure that he visits the most vulnerable, the poorest, and those on the peripheries—in other words, people whose lives epitomize drudgery. More recently, as the hope of a COVID-19 vaccine began to emerge, he became an outspoken advocate for people in the poorer and impoverished nations who might be overlooked and neglected in the distribution of the vaccine. This is mercy, compassion, and solidarity in action.
Just this week, Pope Francis took a courageous step to bring hope to our despairing and divided world by establishing the first ever International Day of Human Fraternity. On February 4, Pope Francis joined the Grand Imam of Al-Ahzar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb for the occasion. Pope Francis said, “Fraternity is the new frontier for humanity. It is the challenge of our century, the challenge of our times. There is no time for indifference. Either we are brothers and sisters or we will destroy each other…. A world without fraternity is a world of enemies.”
There are some terms that Pope Francis has popularized in our world: “mercy.” “compassion,” “solidarity” and “fraternity” among others. These terms have the same meaning as Paul’s “becoming all things to all men [women].” These terms have the same meaning as Jesus stretching out his hand and raising up Peter’s mother-in-law. They have the same meaning as Jesus brining hope to the town that gathered to meet him. Drudgery is real, but mercy, compassion, fraternity, and solidarity are also real. They are powerful antidotes against drudgery, darkness, meaninglessness, and despair.
Yes, life is drudgery these days, and yes, I was not prepared to think about Job this week. But this is the precise moment when I must embrace solidarity, fraternity, mercy, and compassion. This is the sure the way to beat drudgery. They are the antidotes to drudgery.
Let me conclude by saying that the Eucharist is God’s most powerful act of fraternity, solidarity, mercy, and compassion. Through the Eucharist, Christ continues to stretch out his hands towards us. Just like the people of the town who came to Jesus that day, we too have come to Christ. If we are struggling today, may the Eucharist be that dim candlelight in the midst of our drudgery and despair. In return, may we stretch out our hands to others.
Image: Adobe Stock.