Reading I (Job 7:1-4, 6-7) Reading II (1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23)
Gospel (St. Mark 1:29-39)
In the first reading today, we hear from the Book of Job that man’s life on earth is a drudgery. Now it certainly seems like that sometimes. We go day to day and hour by hour. We trudge along, and we do not see that there is much value in some of the things we are doing. We simply remember the words of Qoheleth: Vanity of vanities, all is vanity! All the things that we spend our time and effort doing, and for what? Most of it is for purposes that are not necessarily the best, and we just waste an awful lot of time doing an awful lot of nothing. We get focused on things that really move us the wrong direction. Primarily, we get focused on ourselves, and when we get focused on ourselves life is hopeless. It is dark. There is a drudgery, if that is the case, because we would have to ask ourselves: “If I am the end-all and be-all and everything revolves around me, what’s the purpose of life? What good is any of it?” It is totally worthless because every last one of us knows that we are not the center of all things and we are not the end-all and be-all, even though tragically in our fallen nature we like to think sometimes that we are. And even though we would acknowledge that we are not, we live as though we are.
When we make material things the focus of our lives, life is a drudgery. There is no joy in material things. There is no happiness or fulfillment in material things. There cannot be. There may be a momentary novelty, there may be some point where we can impress other people with how much junk we have accumulated, but that does not make anybody happy. If we spend all of our time doing nothing but spinning our wheels trying to get a paycheck so we can get more material stuff, life is a drudgery. How could it not be? So Job goes on to say that man is like a slave who simply looks for the shade. Out all day long in the beating sun, he just wants to be able to get away and find a little bit of rest in the shade for himself.
If we compare that to what we read in the second reading, Saint Paul says to us: I have made myself a slave to all, and we remember the words of Our Lord: The greatest among you is the one who serves the rest. So we see where the difference is. If we are focused on ourselves, if we are focused on anything that is not God, life is a drudgery because we look at it and realize that it is entirely finite. It is all going to go away. One day we are going to die and leave it all behind, and nobody is going to care. And what purpose was it for? It is just a matter of being a gerbil on the wheel, I guess; we go around and around and we go nowhere. But when we keep our focus on Jesus and when we are striving to live the Gospel, life has a whole different meaning, and “to be a slave of all” is because we recognize what Our Lord has done for us.
When we think about how so many people want to make sure that they get money for every single little thing they do, then we listen to Saint Paul as he tells us that what he receives and the great consolation he has is that he preaches the Gospel free of charge. He was not looking for anyone’s money. He did not care about that because he had a treasure which was worth more than all the money in the world could ever buy – he had Christ. He wanted other people to have Christ, and he wanted to be able to live the Gospel to its fullest. So when we see this dichotomy between living for ourselves and living for Christ, we see that suddenly the drudgery of life becomes entirely different. It becomes a matter of hope. It becomes a matter of joy and fulfillment. When we see the difference between living for money and living for Christ, one is being a slave to a paycheck and the other is being a slave to God Who is love, to God Who will never ask us to do anything that would violate us. And so the slavery with regard to God is not anything near – in fact, cannot even be compared to – any form of slavery we can think of in a worldly sense. When we are slaves of God, we find the fulfillment of who we were created to be because God only wants what is the best for us. He commands us that we are to love God and we are to love neighbor, and that is exactly what Saint Paul was doing. So we see where the difference is. If we are just focused on ourselves, we are not loving God and we are not loving neighbor; we are being selfish and life then is a drudgery and there is no hope. But if we are focused on God, then there is nothing but hope.
All we need to do is look around our world today and we can understand where Job is talking about how life is like a night that just carries on minute by minute, and it does not seem that it is going to end. Look around and you realize that we are living in the night of the world. If we get caught up and focused on the darkness, on the sin, on the evil that is around us, we are going to crash because there is not any hope. If we are trying to find our hope in worldly things, we are going to despair. But if in the midst of the darkness we can focus on the light – because Jesus is the Light – then there is hope. There is nothing but hope because Christ lifts us beyond this world. Even though we have to live for now in this world, we do not have to be caught up in the things of the world. We can be caught up in Him, and that is where our hope comes from. That is the joy that Jesus Himself offers us even in this life. We certainly have to acknowledge the darkness and the evil in the place where we live, but we do not have to give into it, and we do not have to despair in the face of it because we are looking beyond it.
That is why Saint Paul says he considers the present sufferings to be nothing compared to the joy that will be ours in heaven. Again, you can see that Saint Paul, rejoicing in the fact that he has made himself a slave of all, willing to give up everything just for the Gospel, who could say that he was whipped and beaten and stoned and thrown in prison and shipwrecked and all the other things that happened to him, can tell us that his recompense is simply that he gets to preach the Gospel free of charge. He is looking beyond this world. He has found what fulfills his heart and soul, because only God can. Your heart was not made for material things. Your heart was made for God, and that is the only place where you are going to find fulfillment. It is the only place where you are going to find true and lasting joy. It is the only place where you are going to find peace. That is what God is offering to us. It does not matter, then, what happens in the world. We are not going to be pulled by the things that go on because we are looking beyond it.
This is something that is exceedingly necessary right now because, if you have not noticed, it is getting darker, and the darkness is going to become very soon so thick that you can feel it. It is going to be for those who are worldly similar to what the Egyptians recognized in the plagues; it was so dark they could not even see their hand in front of their face. It is not a physical darkness that is going to descend upon the earth, but it is a spiritual darkness. It is already there and it is about to get worse – much worse. It is confusion of the mind. It is total darkness of the heart. It is an outright rejection of God and His ways. And we are going to have to live in the midst of it. Are we ready? Are we ready?
There are two ways we can deal with it. It is going to be a drudgery and a night that never ends, or there is going to be light that will shine in the darkness. Remember back in Egypt when the Egyptians could not see their hands in front of their faces? In the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were, there was brightness. The darkness only fell upon the Egyptians, whereas the Israelites walked in the light. While it will not be a physical light and darkness that we will be in, the same reality is there for each of us. The darkness of sin or the light of Christ is the choice we have to make. If we choose darkness over light, there is no hope. It will be like a night that never ends. It will be despair. It will be total evil and total confusion all around us, and, if we choose the darkness, it will even be within us. But if we look at Christ, if we are rooted in prayer, if we are united in our minds and in our hearts to Jesus Christ – Who is the Truth, Who is Love – then we will have peace in the midst of it, we will have joy in the midst of it, and we will have hope in the midst of it. That choice is ours.
So that is what we have to look at. We see very clearly in these two readings today the difference between just looking at things on the natural level – man’s life on earth is a drudgery; it is like a night that never ends – and, on the other hand, looking at life from the point of view of the Gospel, where Saint Paul makes himself a slave to all, serves others, and finds his joy in the suffering he endures for the sake of the Gospel. These things sound completely foreign and completely foolish to the worldly. But to those who pray and who understand the Gospel, they make perfect sense. And the most foolish things in the world are those who immerse themselves in the world.
Now you have to understand that we have an awful lot of pressure to conform to the worldly ways. Everywhere you look, you are going to be told that is what you have to do. We have been programmed, if you will, from the time we are little kids that this is the way things are supposed to be. The advertisers and the marketing people have made a living off of it. So it takes a certain act of the will to be able to say, “I’m going to look beyond what I have been conditioned to do and think, and I’m actually going to look at what the Gospel says. I’m going to open my heart to hear the words of Christ speaking within, and I’m going to make some changes in my life.” It is something that we all know we are supposed to do, but it is something that we all ignore because we are afraid. We are afraid that if we are not like everyone else things might not be so good. Why would you want to be like everyone else, for whom life is drudgery and a night that never ends? Saint Paul says, We are not children of the night or of the darkness; we are children of the light and of the day. Jesus Christ is the Light, and we need to reject the darkness because He came into the darkness and the darkness could not overcome Him. That will be the truth for every single person who is willing to live the Gospel of Christ. The darkness is going to envelope the earth, but those who walk in Christ, the darkness will not be able to overcome them.
The worldly way leads to despair. The way of Christ leads to hope. For those who live the ways of the world, man’s life on earth is like a slave; all that he is doing is looking for some rest. And for those who live the Gospel: I have made myself a slave to all, Saint Paul says; instead of looking for rest, he has already found it, and therefore what he looks for is more work, to preach the Gospel, to bring more people to Christ, because he finds his rest exactly where Jesus told us that we would. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and you will find rest for your souls. That is what He is offering us. We all know from experience that the ways of the world do not bring peace. They do not bring rest for our souls. They do not bring happiness or joy or hope or anything else. So why do we keep trying to make it work when it doesn’t? How many years does it take to prove to ourselves that it is all a lie? For two thousand years, the saints have all demonstrated to us that there is another way, that there is a way that is truth, that there is a way that is peace and joy and hope and happiness and fulfillment and everything else we can say about it. And it is just the opposite of the ways of the world. It is the way of the Gospel. It is the way of Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.