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Fifth Sunday In Ordinary Times (5B), Feb. 5, 2012
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
A Polish-American Jesuit friend invited me to dinner at his mother’s house. This sounded quite agreeable. The only instruction I was given beforehand was: do not refuse second helpings.
I was young and skinny and I knew I would even accept thirds. But polish mothers take great pride in their traditional foods and in the multiple, large, large bowls they use to serve them. All different foods, all delicious, each and every one astonishingly filling.
So I ate and ate and ate until the terrible moment arrived. “Here, have some more, oh my goodness you don’t have anything on your plate, take some of this. And this. You are going to starve. You won’t be ready for dessert if you don’t eat your meal!”
Luckily I did not roll my eyes. I took as little of each as I could politely do, dealt with dessert, and took my stuffed self away from the table, graced with a new friend in my new Polish mother.
Why do I tell you this? Because Simon’s mother-in-law in the Gospel must have been this sort of a woman. Whenever guests visited. I’m sure she would be hustling and bustling, stirring up a welcome, dish after dish.
But when Jesus and the apostles came over one day, she was ill and helpless.
Jesus, immersed in his new career of preaching, curing, driving out unclean spirits, showing the great tenderness of God for people, he saw how much out of character it was for her to just watch her guests. He took her hand, healed her without ceremony, and lifted her out of her frustration. The Gospel says that, next, “She waited on them.” She was like the Polish mother.
By contrast, in the First Reading we hear the ancient words of Job, who does nothing but complain that everything has been taken away from him. “My life is like the wind,” he says, “I shall not see happiness again.”
I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, "When shall I arise?" then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
Many of us will recognize these symptoms from our own lives. But Job lost more than just sleep. Formerly he had been prosperous, with a wife and servants, children, land, livestock, and a sterling reputation. Now they were all gone. Moreover he had been holy and loving:I rescued the poor who cried out for help,
the orphans, and the unassisted. . . ,
the heart of the widow I made joyful. . . ,
I was eyes to the blind,
and feet to the lame was I”
(see Job 29:12, 13, 15-16).
What had he done to deserve his huge deprivations? For that matter, what did Jesus do to deserve the loss of his people (and his frequent meals with them), and of his preaching and curing and befriending? When he hung on the cross did he remember his mother’s meals?
This much we do know: loss is the way of the world. The blessings we receive can fall away and be broken. We can starve instead of overeat.
God knows this too. He stays with us either way. “Father and fondler of heart he has wrung” (Hopkins), he shows that love means “being with,” instead of just taking away trouble.