Eat Up – John Foley, SJ

Mark 1:21-28, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time B

A Jesuit friend of mine, who happens to be Polish-American, once invited me to dinner at his mother’s house. This sounded quite agreeable. The only instruction I was given beforehand was, do not refuse second helpings.

I was young and skinny and I knew I would even accept thirds. But polish mothers take great pride in their traditional foods and in the many, many large bowls they serve up. All different foods, all delicious, all astonishingly filling. I ate and ate and ate until …

the fearful moment arrived.

Here, have some more, oh my goodness you don’t have anything on your plate, take some of this, and this. You are going to starve. You won’t be ready for dessert if you don’t eat your meal!

Luckily I did not roll my eyes. I took a portion of each, as little as I could politely do, then dealt with the really delicious dessert. I took my stuffed self away from the table, graced with a new Polish mother, and with a nap on the couch.

Why do I tell you this? Because Simon’s mother-in-law in the Gospel must have been just like this gracious woman. I’m sure the mother-in-law would be hustling and bustling, stirring up welcome, dish after dish after dish if she were here today.

Jesus seemed to be immersed in his new career of preaching, curing, driving out unclean spirits, showing the great tenderness of God for people. But when he and the apostles stopped by one day, Simon’s relative was ill and helpless. How much out of character it was for this take-charge woman to crumple and just observe her guests. He took her hand and without ceremony healed her. He lifted her up from her sickness—and then she waited on them”! (Didn’t I say Simon had a Polish mother-in-law?)

By contrast, in the First Reading we hear ancient words of Job, who does nothing in this reading but complain because everything has been taken away from him. “My life is like the wind,” he says; “I shall not see happiness again.”

I have been assigned months of misery,

and troubled nights have been allotted to me.

If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?” then the night drags on;

I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.

Many of us recognize such words from our own lives. And Job lost more than sleep. He had formerly been prosperous, with a wife and servants, children, land, livestock, and a sterling reputation to boot.

I rescued the poor who cried out for help,

the orphans, and the unassisted, …

the heart of the widow I made joyful, …

I was eyes to the blind,

and feet to the lame was I (see Job 29:12).

Did he deserve such huge deprivations? For that matter, did Jesus deserve losing not only his frequent meals with people, his preaching and curing and befriending? When he hung on the cross could he remember his mother’s meals?

This much we do know: loss is part of life. The blessings we are given can drop and shatter. Instead of overeating, so many today starve.

God knows this too. He stays with us either way. God is “Father and fondler of heart he has wrung,” to quote the poet Hopkins. Instead of  “erasing trouble,” Christ lets his love do the job of consolation.

Be with God.

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