A Commentary and Reflection on the Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Job 7:1-4, 6-7, 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23, Mark 1:29-39.
The Liturgy of the Mass is Making Us Into Slaves, Not Friends to Christ Jesus
According to the Gospel of John in 15:12-15, Jesus issued His apostles a new commandment the night before His passion, saying, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” Some have interpreted these verses to claim that Jesus is our friend, but He never said that. Jesus defined ‘friendship’ here as loving someone enough to sacrifice your life so that they might live. That definition of friendship immediately disqualifies us from being able to be a friend to Jesus because we cannot die so that Jesus will live. In other words, Jesus has been our friend, but we cannot be a friend to Him in this same way. Therefore, He called us friends because He loved us enough to die for us. In a second way, Jesus called us friends because He has told us everything He heard from the Father. This is also a definition of friendship that we cannot extend to Jesus because we cannot tell Him something He does not already know.
As to whether these teachings of Jesus contradict the Apostle Paul’s several instances of calling Himself a servant or slave to God and Christ Jesus, I would say that these statements from Paul are beautiful expressions of his humility. Although Paul could have claimed to have been worthy of being called a friend of our Lord for doing what Jesus commanded, he recognizes his limitations, faults, and failures and, therefore, leans into the words of Jesus recorded by Luke saying, “When you have done all that is commanded you say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Lk. 17:10). I am confident that there are people who are deluded enough to think that they have done all that God has commanded them and have no need to confess their sins, but if the Apostle Paul was not that person, who am I to claim otherwise of myself?
The life guiding principle of being an unprofitable servant is on display in today’s Second Reading from 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23, where the Apostle Paul writes, “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! If I do so willingly, I have a reward, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That, when I preach, I offer the gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. 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.” Paul not only considers himself to be a slave to God and Jesus Christ but also to those who have been called to Christ. In this way, he doubles his odds in the long game he is playing to obtain the Crown of Righteousness that he believes God will reward him with for his service (Cf. 2 Tim. 4:8).
Indeed, having the disposition of being a slave to Christ Jesus is the best way to live the gift of life that God has given us because it not only sets us up for our reward in the end but also keeps us free from the occasion of sin of becoming proud of ourselves. However, we have to put in context what slavery to Christ Jesus looks like because Christian servitude is not a reflection of Job’s definition of human life. In today’s First Reading from Job 7:1-4, 6-7, Job’s friend Eliphaz tried to comfort him by saying that God is just and punishes the wicked while rewarding the righteous. In response, Job retorted, “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.” Perhaps Job would have been better off hearing from Jesus, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” (Mt. 11:30) because at least he would have known that he did have a yoke around his neck and a burden to carry. For, we are slaves and are carrying a cross on our backs. Even the eight beatitudes have a burden and a blessing attached to them. Therefore, this life is not meant to be without troubles, but for the obedient servant, this journey ends with a blessing or a crown, as Paul believed. Such was the case with Job at the end when the Lord had given him double for his trouble (Cf. 42:10).
Today’s Gospel Reading from Mark 1:29-39 offers three different accounts of Christ Jesus making Himself a servant to those who probably thought He was just a messiah or a prophet. What type of King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prophet of Prophets, Priest of Priests, and God of all that is true behaves as a slave to those in need, answering their pleas, prayers, and petitions only because His nature of love demands that He does; otherwise He is not love and not God. In the first instance, He grabs the hand of Simon Peter’s ailing mother-in-law, and the fever leaves her. In the second instance, He cures many people “who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons.” In the third instance, after spending the morning in prayer, He told Simon Peter, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.” Some might be in awe of how tireless Christ Jesus was, how He never became weary of serving us. What if you believe that same power resides in you and resides most uniquely in you through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit you received at Baptism and the Holy Eucharist you worthily receive at Mass?
Indeed, for what purpose does God visit us at the Divine Symphony of the Mass? For what purpose does He come to make His home in us? For what purpose does He shower us with help and graces through the Sacraments He has given the Catholic Church? For what purpose are the sacred Scriptures through which He tells us everything the Father has told Him? Why does He chastise us? Why does He prune us? Why does He allow us to suffer? Why does this cross on our back seem unbearable to carry at times? Because you are a slave to Christ, who is being prepared to serve God and your neighbor well.
This is just one way the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us in how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.