User’s Guide to the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In life we face many difficulties; they challenge us and our faith. Deep struggle can lead us to question God, his love, or even his existence. The readings today speak to us of these sorts of difficulties and prophetically interpret them for us. Let’s take a look at these readings in three stages.
The reading from the Book of Job says, “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? … I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me. … I shall not see happiness again.” Job is weary and worried, angry and anxious, depressed and discouraged. We’ve all been there, and although we pray it won’t happen, life has difficulties. We, too, can feel lost when suffering sets in. A thousand questions — usually starting with “Why?” — beset us. And while the mystery of suffering cannot be fully explained, we ought to remember that God permits some trouble in our lives so that certain purposes can be accomplished (if we are faithful). God permits trouble to direct us, inspect us, correct us and even protect us, but always and ultimately to perfect us. In the depths of despair, the first step in improving our mental outlook is to remember that God permits suffering for a reason and a season.
In the Gospel, we are told, “Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her … [and] they also brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.” Note the instinct of the people to turn to the Lord “immediately.” Indeed, while God may have reasons for permitting us to experience difficulties, he still wants us to ask for grace, strength and healing. The Book of James says, simply, “Ye have not because ye ask not” (James 4:2). In seeking the Lord, we ought to remember that perseverance is also an important aspect of prayer. Elsewhere, Jesus teaches his disciples “that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).
The “Doctrine of Divine Decision” teaches that we should accept with trust that God knows what is best. We run to him for relief and permit him to say either “now” or “later” in response to our prayers. In the Gospel, Jesus is urged to return to Capernaum, for many more have come for healings. But Jesus says, “Let us go on to the nearby villages, that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.”
Jesus is not here simply to be a medical miracle worker. Regarding the requests for healing, Jesus said to some of them, “Now” and to others, “Wait.” This is his decision, and he knows what is best. But consider this: Either way, we are blessed.
Scripture says, “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord, to them who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). In other words, even the difficult things in life, by God’s grace, work unto good; they bring some benefit. God permits the struggle for now because he knows of the benefit. Scripture also says that the Doctrine of Divine Decision leaves things up to God. Whether now or later, everything is going to be all right if we trust in God.
Be not disillusioned in suffering; go to the Lord with faith, and trust his answer.