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Fifth Sunday in ordinary time: The cry from the abyss

Today’s readings: Job 7, 1-4.6-7; 1 Corinthians 9, 16-19.22-23; Mark 1, 29-39.

There are many today who can very easily identify themselves with Job’s cry from the abyss in the first reading. The meaningful life is still a pressing issue and an uphill struggle for so many in today’s world. The parable of Job still narrates the lives of those who today toil their way forward and find no solace in the way things are.

This may sound tragic, especially in times when humanity is supposed to have progressed so much in all areas of life and when standards of living are perceived as light miles from the way our immediate ancestors lived. Job is generally portrayed in the Bible as someone who holds fast to his faith in God. Yet, through today’s first reading, one could see how vehemently Job vents his weary philosophy of life, interrogating God from the midst of his anguish.

Job’s interrogation is reminiscent of Elie Wiesel’s The Trial of God. His words are gloom and doom, very depressing and disturbing. Yet they also convey a very important lesson for us to beware of a religion that can be so illusory and alienating.

We all know the story of Job and that the Book of Job represents a very particular leap forward in the faith of Israel. Israel staunchly believed that evil and suffering are direct consequences of sin and hence pretended to resolve simplistically such a complex human issue. From Job it transpires that even the innocent suffer and die and are prone to be subjected to all sorts of evil.

However, it remains very difficult for the modern mind to accept the fact that for some reason or other, Job was put to the test by God. Why on earth could there be any reason or need whatsoever on the part of God to test us?

Spiritual emptiness can be a symptom of religious poverty and can also present an opportunity for deepening one’s religious life. The deep anguish expressed by Job is a call from the abyss which is commonplace in mystical and contemporary literature. Perhaps this explains the attraction that the mystics hold today for our contemporaries. The mystics, like Job, convey a sense of emptiness that points to the absence of religious meaning. Like Job, many believers today feel thoroughly confused and can sense what Simone Weil aptly called that sacred “sense of emptiness”.

St Mark’s gospel, on the other hand, seeks to provide us with the other picture in presenting Jesus as the healer par excellence. Maybe in the past we portrayed Jesus too romantically and in a devout attire, and less people today feel they can connect with the Jesus we still preach. Mark, in the first chapter of his gospel, portrays Jesus as the one who gives meaning to life and who is capable of liberating us from all that is oppressing.

For Christianity to survive it is imperative to go back to the origins of the faith and beyond the type of theology that resembled more a self-supporting system that provided ready-made answers to all sorts of questions.

It is with existential anguish that the lived faith needs to connect. In our way of being a Church, and in our bringing the good news of the Gospel to the world, it is mainly the cries from the abyss, the existential desert many still inhabit, that need to be addressed.

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