The Book of Job reveals what makes us human.

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Have you ever been near a mother with two or three kids in tow—maybe even more—in a grocery store? Her cart is quite full; she holds a crumpled and folded list. One kid runs ahead, to see what another has discovered. Some cereal they could not find during the last visit. Another runny-nosed kid trails behind. They have to look for her every time they exit an aisle.

It is not a “Women of Jerusalem Meet the Suffering Christ Moment,” but it’s close. The young woman, hair and clothing a bit askew, is exhausted. At least, she looks that way to me. It is impressed on her slumped shoulders. You can see it in her weary eyes, which scan her list, and the prices, so carefully. How can anyone that tired be so tolerant? And if she is Hispanic, she is also taking in looks from Anglos, who perhaps find her too tolerant. Yet Anglo or Hispanic, sometimes the word “No” will have to be repeated, a little loudly for emphasis.

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If you have never felt the force of Job’s words, you have lived your life in a much protected place.

If that happens, I smile and try to look immersed in my shopping. No one wants to correct kids in front of strangers. Certainly not in front of one who is wearing a clerical collar. But, if I am being honest, I also shy away because I do not want to watch another suffer. I have always been that way.

When I was a high school student, working in my dad’s grocery store, I felt a confused swirl of pity and shame when people paid with food stamps. Pity for them, as they carefully compared their would-be purchases to their stamps on hand—my father acting as though this were business as usual. Shame for myself, because I had to stand there and watch. I was part of a world that made people live like this. I feel something similar, seeing a very tired mom.

Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me (Job 7:1-3).

If you have never felt the force of Job’s words, you have lived your life in a much protected place. For most folk the world over, most of the time, his words are all too accurate.

To be human is to be centered outside yourself, in hunger and desire.

Even in the Gospel, a world-weariness settles over the scene. Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. She gets up and goes back to waiting upon her guests. And the Lord then finds that “the whole town was gathered at the door” (Mk 1:33). Who isn’t weary and suffering in this scene? The recovered woman, waiting upon them? The suffering line of sorrows at the door? And what of the Lord? To be human is to suffer with those who suffer. Yes, he heals them, but first Jesus sees and shares their sufferings, perhaps to the point of lassitude.

Remember that haunting line from the U2 song, “With or Without You”?

And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away
And you give
And you give
And you give yourself away

It comes down to this. We are those who give ourselves away. We are those who must give ourselves away. To be human is to be centered outside yourself, in hunger and desire. There is something incomplete in us, something that must forage in the world. And in a fallen world, we will exhaust ourselves in the attempt. We will, literally, give ourselves away.

Are your life’s energies being poured into something that gives life, to you and to others?

The great Gospel question is this: Are your life’s energies being poured into something that gives life, to you and to others? Yes, the mother in the grocery store is exhausted, but when life offers her a chance to reflect, she knows why she gives herself away. She knows that it is well worth it.

So does Jesus. The next morning, after a night of prayers, he tells his disciples:
Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come (Mk 1: 38).

I am one of those, whom the Lord has treated so kindly, so gently. I feel a bit like the Beloved Disciple, never being asked to pay the price demanded of the other apostles. Yes, in ministry there are moments of exhaustion, times when I pray that the door or the phone—and now two or three other modern forms of communication—do not find me. Still, the greatest burden of ministry is not the number of hours spent working. No, it was already identified by St. Paul: suffering because others are suffering, suffering with others.

Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.
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 Cor 9: 19, 22-23).

I do not need pity. Neither did Jesus or Paul or Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. And do not pity the tired mother in the grocery store. To be human is to give ourselves away, and these women and men know why they do it.

Pity the one who exhausts himself for riches, for fame, for power. All of these vanish, carrying off those who have given themselves away to them, who have poured themselves out upon them, like a uselessly spent offering to a god of darkness, a god of nothing.

Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 Mark 1:29-39

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Kevin Murray
2 weeks 4 days ago

And in today's gospel, after emptying himself by preaching and healing everyone in town, Jesus withdrew to a secluded place to pray, to reconnect with the source of his power, his love. We find our strength in the still, quiet moments, and then we carry on as best we can, with God's grace. Thanks for the reflection!

John Walton
2 weeks 4 days ago

I thought about Job a lot today, after all this was the first epistle and paragraphs which seem to get neglected. I think of the men and women whose businesses crash and burn, for whom everything is taken away, or the fella who just can't get a break. Poor Job was covered with sores, but his character remained strong. Thanks for writing this Father Klein.

Carol Cox
1 week 6 days ago

Thank you, Fr. Klein. Your reflection touched my heart and gave me much to ponder. Bless you.

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