The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Job and Paul, Simon and his mother-in-law: they each had their own life experiences, and we heard a little about each of them in this morning’s readings. But what’s even more important than their experiences is what they made of them in the presence of God, and to say that is to speak of prayer. Prayer is the thread that unites all of our life experiences, and in that sense, each of the readings this morning has something to say about prayer.
Prayer, like life itself, begins with God, who enables Job to say everything he does in the book of Job, including his gentle reminder to God in the first reading: Remember that my life is like the wind, or, as The Message Bible translates it, “God, don’t forget that I’m only a puff of air!” That was how God inspired Job to pray, but God’s answer was hidden in the fact that Job said something to God at all. That made it a prayer, and the fact that the prayer was recorded in the bible shows that God encourages us to keep praying throughout everything that happens to us, just as Job did. Prayer is never a monologue; it’s always a dialogue, even if the person praying and the God who answers are both silent.
In the Gospel we have an example of vocal prayer and also, I think, of silent prayer. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. There’s a note of solicitude and hope in their voices, and just sharing their desire with Jesus is already a form of prayer. But the great example of silent prayer (after Jesus himself) is Simon’s mother-in-law, in bed with a fever. She teaches us that when the tongue is unable to express itself, the heart can do so, and the eyes can speak by their tears. Her prayer took the form of an unspoken appeal that went straight to the heart of Jesus. (And here I would say that we can be so busy seeing the miracles as signs that we forget to think of them as works of love).
At any rate, Jesus could not resist the silent prayer of this woman. He approached, grasped her hand, and bestowed his strength on her weakness, healing her as he would heal each of us. She had already been a woman of prayer, but when Jesus healed her out of love for her, her prayer became a dialogue of love. The dialogue did not cease when her silent prayer was answered, it only took another form. We are told, and she waited on them. When the love of God really takes hold of a person, as it did with this woman, it clothes not only the intellect but all the senses, and the whole person becomes a hand that serves and an ear that listens, and only our refusal to love can separate us from our dialogue with God.
St Paul too had already been a man of prayer like Job. But when Jesus called him by name on the road to Damascus, his prayer became a dialogue of love. The love of Christ overwhelms us, he was later to write, perhaps with that experience in mind. And as with Simon’s mother-in-law, God’s love in Christ clothed not only Paul’s intellect but all his senses, and the whole person became a hand that writes and a tongue that speaks: If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me – a work of love, like the miracles of Jesus. Nothing in the world can separate Paul from his dialogue of love with God, neither his lack of payment for preaching the gospel, nor the weakness of others in responding to it. He still keeps on praying for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.
Job and Paul, Simon and his mother-in-law: all of these people are persons of prayer. They presented themselves to God the Father with confidence, knowing that they were constantly being invited and drawn to their Creator. We can even say that they – and we – were created for prayer, for sharing in God’s love. We have only to allow the love of God to overwhelm us, to break down our hardheartedness and unconscious prayerlessness.
And how can our spirit not break into prayer when we contemplate the immensity of the love of God, which drove him to humble himself and allow himself to be broken, first on the cross, and then in every Eucharist?
“Take and eat”, he says. “My Lord and my God”, we pray.