In an indirect way, today’s gospel gives us a precious little piece of information about Peter’s marital status. By mentioning his mother-in-law, we come to know that Peter was a married man (no other way to have a mother-in-law!). This is the only reference recorded in the gospels about the marital status of any of the twelve apostles. Too bad her name is not given; she could be the much needed patron saint of all mothers-in-law.
Now, let’s go to the core and message of today’s readings. In the first reading, we heard the loud lament of Job: “I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me… I shall not see happiness again.” Job is just voicing out what millions of people all over the world are going through: hunger, pain, sickness, suffering, starvation, violence. They keep asking: Where is God? Why does he allow this to happen? Why does this happen to me?
The story of Job was written in order to challenge the Old Testament people’s belief that pain, sickness and suffering are punishment for sin. Job is a righteous and holy man; yet he loses all his properties one after the other, his fields, his cattle, and even his children; besides, he is stricken with leprosy. Job professes his innocence, against the accusations of his wife and friends who insist that he must have done something wrong. The book of Job proves that sickness and suffering are not punishment for sin—not always, anyway. But it leaves unanswered the basic question: Why then do people suffer? Above all, why do innocent people suffer? Like in the Old Testament so also today many among us blame God, if not for inflicting pain at least for not doing enough to alleviate it.
Today’s gospel belies such stand. Jesus, the God-made-man spent most of his time healing the sick and alleviating suffering. On this particular day, he cured a possessed man inside the synagogue; then he cured Simon’s mother-in-law; and then, “when it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons.” All in a day’s time! Jesus is like a walking hospital; he cannot stand seeing people suffer. What a beautiful gospel to read at the threshold of the World Day of the Sick, three days from now!
We may not know why people suffer, or where suffering comes from. But this much we know: It does not come from God. A lot of suffering is man-made and even self-inflicted, brought about by our own excesses in eating, drinking, smoking, drugs, careless driving, etc. We do know why the Palestinians and the Israelis–and people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, and other war-torn places, are suffering. We do know why the victims of terrorism, corruption and injustice are suffering. Definitely, not God’s doing.
Where did Jesus get the strength needed to carry on his relentless healing and preaching activity? In prayer, that’s where. “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went to a deserted place, where he prayed.” Now we have the complete picture of Jesus’ life and his two points of reference: prayer and action: the Father and the sick. Communion with Father in prayer gave him the strength to remain faithful to his calling. Simon and the others came to him with a tempting proposition: “Everybody is looking for you!” Wow, what a chance to be popular. Jesus could have said: “Now we are in business! Our strategy is working!” But he didn’t go for it: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns…” Prayer kept him focused on and faithful to the Father’s will.
Prayer will do for us what it did for Jesus. It will help us remain faithful to the Father’s will and to overcome the temptations of pride and selfishness. It will give meaning and a sense of direction to our life.