Father Donald Senior, CP

Feb. 7: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Healing the brokenhearted

Jb 7:1-4, 6-7; Ps 147: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6; 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39

How many times over the past several months have we heard the laments of those who lost a loved one to the coronavirus: beloved parents dying alone in nursing homes; sudden death striking down an apparently healthy spouse. 

One phrase I have heard over and over is, “I am heartbroken.” It conjures up a poignant and gripping image of a heart pierced with sorrow.

This is not an image foreign to our Scriptures. The first reading for this Sunday is from the book of Job, which forms the Bible’s most gripping lament. 

In this selection, Job speaks of his deep weariness with a life seemingly drained of its meaning. We hear Job speak these words: “Is not life on earth a drudgery?” “The nights drag on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.” “My days come to an end without hope.” “My life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”

In times of loss, great stress and anxiety, Job’s words might become our own. 

The response Psalm 147 picks up the motif but begins to turn it in a different direction. The psalm, and our response to each verse, repeatedly refer to the “brokenhearted.” But they are now framed as the object of God’s healing love and mercy. The Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” “The Lord sustains the lowly.” 

As is the case with Job, ultimately our lives are in the hands of a loving God, despite the sufferings we endure.

The selection this Sunday from Mark’s Gospel puts things into perspective. More than any of the other Gospels, Mark emphasizes the extraordinary commitment of Jesus to healing and reconciliation. 

The passage we hear today describes the first full day of Jesus’ ministry. It is a time of non-stop healing in the fishing village of Capernaum, which is where Jesus and his disciples made their home base while in Galilee.

Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is sick with a deadly fever and Jesus takes her by the hand and “lifts her up.” (In the Greek translation, the same word to describe what happens here is also used later in the Gospel to describe Jesus’ resurrection.) She is restored to life and once more able to “serve,” which is the term used throughout the Gospel to describe Jesus’ own ministry of care for others.

As word of Jesus’ healings spreads and as the Sabbath day comes to its close, the crowds surge to Jesus as if drawn to a magnetic force and bring their sick and distressed loved ones. This brokenhearted mass of humanity converges upon the home where Jesus is staying, desperate to experience his healing touch. 

This observation of the crowds pressing in on Jesus is repeated several times in Mark’s Gospel, illustrating both the desperation of the sick and their families, as well as Jesus’ reputation for compassion and healing.

At the end of a long day — “very early before dawn” — the Evangelist notes that Jesus, no doubt exhausted from his mission, “went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.”

During this pandemic, over and over, we have heard the testimony of frontline healthcare workers who are exhausted and emotionally spent from witnessing so much suffering. Jesus, too, the Gospel indicates, needed to withdraw and recover his strength in deep prayer with his father.

But the respite will not be long. His disciples “pursue” him and when they find him, they tell him, “Everyone is looking for you.” So Jesus rises from his early dawn rest and takes up his mission of healing once more: “Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.”

Few other Gospel passages spell out the Christian commitment to healing and relieving suffering more than this one. It lays out the need to care for the sick, to comfort those who mourn, to engage in acts of kindness and generosity for those in need, to reach out to the isolated. 

Jesus’ power to heal and to confront the power of death was unique and without precedent. Yet, we, too, despite our human frailty, share in Christ’s power to heal the brokenhearted.


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