Who of us has not had problems over the years? When we planned for success, there was often failure. No matter what we did, there was little if any success. Failure seemed to become the regular outcome. In this and other kinds of similar situations, the result often appeared hopeless. It was as if the doors of hopelessness were slamming shut all around us, so what we needed were keys of “hope” to unlock those doors.
And where could we find these keys? The readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Job 7:1-7 and Mark 11:29-39) would make good candidates. In the reading from Job we note that he appears to be in a hopeless situation because of what happened to him earlier. His children have died, he has no belongings, and he seems to be suffering from a rare disease. He cannot understand why God has abandoned him. His condition appears hopeless.
In the Gospel reading (Mark 1:29-39), Jesus cures Peter’s mother-in-law thus manifesting his healing power. Whereas in the reading from Job we find Job experiencing hopelessness, nevertheless we note that in the Gospel reading that Peter’s mother-in-law experiences hope in having been healed by Jesus.
There are three phrases in the Gospel that seem to play a significant part of the healing process. (1)-“He came and took her by the hand…” There was actual contact between Jesus and Peter’s mother in law. (2)-“…lifted her up…” Jesus helped her to rise. Reminder of the resurrection. (3)-“Then the fever left her and she began to serve them.”
Regarding the first phrase, “taking her by the hand,” manifests the healing power of Jesus which is communicated by physical contact. This suggests that action is necessary to bring about healing. We heal others by doing something on their behalf.
Concerning the second phrase, “…he lifted her up,” we can assume that illness is not the only thing that makes us fall. The spiritual illness of sin can make our spirits fall, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation can raise us up again.
It is interesting to note that later in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 5:41), Jesus raises a little girl from the dead using similar words as in the current reading. “(He) took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum,” which means “Little girl, get up.” The first phrase had to do with touch, the second deals with lifting up.
The third phrase is: “…She began to serve them…” In the Greek the word is almost the same as for “deacon” who is ordained principally to serve. Every baptized Christian has the basic responsibility to serve others.
What can we learn from this Gospel? Keeping the above three points in mind, we can reflect on them by trying to answer these questions.
TOUCH: How are we touched by Jesus? He touches us by virtue of the sacraments, esp. the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I touch others by virtue of my good example, namely, by doing things on their behalf.
LIFTING UP: How seriously have I fallen into sin, especially if observed by others? Constant images of the resurrection should be the dominant image for me in terms of being lifted up.
SERVICE: Is my sense of service geared principally for my benefit, or do I actually intend to serve others by my good example?
I strongly suggest that “touch,” “lift,” and “service” can function as serviceable keys of hope to unlock the doors of hopelessness that are all around us now.