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February 4, 2018 - Antidotes to Drudgery

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings 

Of all the weeks, this was not the week that I wanted to deal with a scripture reading from Job. In today’s first reading Job reflects on life and says, “Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?” (Job 7:1). Drudgery is a very distressing word. It is an immensely burdensome state of being. I have just returned from home seeing the drudgery of my ninety year old father. My heart breaks to see him this way. He sleeps almost all day, wakes up to eat, use the the bathroom, pray a little and then back to bed again. All the medication he takes to stay alive… it is depressing for him and my family. My eighty year old mother said to me the other day, “Does this have to be how our last days are? Dad sleeps most of the time and I walk about the house like a ghost.” Its called drudgery. As I left home this time, I did not feel that I was merely leaving home. I felt that I was abandoning my parents. My life still has meaning. My ministry is still my life. I am surrounded by very some supportive people and a lovely puppy. But to me life seems like drudgery right now. I won’t be surprised if there are people in this church who feel like my father, my mother or I feel at the moment. Drudgery is real.  

 My three points today are really antidotes to the question of drudgery or antidotes to confront the darker realities of our human condition.  

  1. A Dim Candlelight in the Midst of Darkness. The book of Job, is taken, from the part of the Bible we know as ‘Wisdom literature.’  The wisdom tradition in the Hebrew Bible tires 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 we have is the meek surrender Job 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 bottomline is that while Job does not find a clear answer to his questions about the meaning of life, his relationship with God becomes his hope - a dim candlelight in the midst of his darkness. I see this with my dad and mom. No matter how the day goes, there is one thing they do not miss - praying together. Somehow, everyday, dad wakes himself up for morning prayer with mom and then novena on TV at 7:30 am, mass TV at 4pm, Rosary in the evening at 7pm, and adoration on TV at 10 pm. Their relationship with God is their hope… a dim candlelight in the midst of drudgery. Job-like-relationship with God is the first antidote to drudgery. 
  1. Solidarity in Drudgery. There is a verse in today’s second reading, which even though Paul uses in a very different context, provides us the 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. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it” (1 For 9:22). We call this solidarity! Paul was expressing his oneness with those who need it. We have an example of this in today’s gospel reading. Jesus stretches out his hand and grasps Peter’s mother-in-law’s hand and heals her. This is the perfect image of solidarity. It is also an analogy for God’s solidarity with us. On the cross, Jesus stretches out his hands in solidarity towards all humanity to heal us. We see this in today’s gospel reading. That evening when Jesus visited Peter’s home, today’s gospel says, “The whole town was gathered at the door.” Jesus stretched out is hand towards all those who needed him. The second antidote to drudgery and meaninglessness is solidarity. It simply means that just like Paul and Jesus, we can help one another. Today’s readings are a call to us to stretch out our hands in solidarity with those who are struggling. Reaching out towards others in solidarity can help us overcome our own meaninglessness and certainly help those to whom we reach out. 
  1. Mercy and Compassion, My third point is closely related to my second point. One of the most best examples of Paul and Jesus like solidarity is Pope Francis. Whenever he visits a country, he makes sure that he visits the most vulnerable, the poorest, and the one on the peripheries. Even in his latest visit to Chile and Peru, he did not hesitate to meet the victims of priest’s child abuse crisis there. It was the hardest part of his visit, but he did not try ignore the problem. There are two words that Pope Francis has popularized in our world: “mercy” and “compassion.” Compassion means “to suffer with.” It means what Paul says, “becoming all things to all men [women].” I said in my introduction that drudgery is a very distressing word. However, mercy and compassion are equally powerful antidotes against drudgery. My parents are great examples of this. In the neighborhood, if any body needs help, they know they can come to my parents. Financially, spiritually, or emotionally people know our home is a compassionate place. Not only does this help people who are struggling, it also becomes an antidote to my own parent’s drudgery. The greatest antidote to drudgery and meaninglessness is to create a space of compassion and mercy around us. The cross of Jesus Christ is exactly that space. 

The Eucharist is God’s most powerful act of 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 this Eucharist bring us light, hope, and healing. In return may we stretch out our hands to others. Amen.  

  • Fr. Satish Joseph