Fr. Tom is on vacation. This week, Grace Koleczek, Adult Faith Formation & Social Justice Coordinator, is offering the following reflection:
“Pity party:” when one spends one’s time wallowing in one’s sadness, grief, anger and/or feeling sorry for oneself due to circumstances life has brought them. See the Book of Job
Although, the Book of Job is much more rich and complex than a story about a man throwing himself a pity party, I could not help but imagine all Job’s supposed friends (who are there listening to him give the speech we hear in the first reading) roll their eyes and whisper to one another, “When will Job’s pity party end?” This phrase “pity party” is often used to poke fun at someone complaining about their situation seemingly without end or ability to see a ray of hope. Yet, I’m willing to bet we have all had at least one time in our life when we could really identify with Job’s sentiments. All of us have experienced suffering, pain, anger, and/or confusion at something that has been beyond our control. We’ve all asked, “WHY?!” We’ve likely also all been in the shoes of Job’s friends, uncomfortable at a friend’s pain, wondering when they will just move on and stop threatening our own worldview with their hard questions.
This isn’t only an individual experience but often a communal one as well. The psalmist proclaims, “Praise the Lord who heals the brokenhearted . . . The Lord sustains the lowly . . .” This isn’t only about individuals like you, me, and Job. For Old Testament authors and their original audiences, the poor and lowly indicated the widow, orphan, and stranger, those groups whom society did not protect by law and for whom the Israelites were responsible to care under Yahweh’s law. Who are the brokenhearted and lowly of our time? We might think of those trapped in the cycle of poverty; those who go hungry; those who receive messages that they are “less than” and who are discriminated against; those who are ignored because of a physical or mental disability. You likely can name many more.
What are we to do in the face of such suffering? First, when we suffer, we might take comfort in knowing that there are examples of “pity parties” in Scripture. It’s okay to whine, to rage, to cry out to God, “WHY!?” Second, when our loved ones suffer, will we sit with them in their pain or will we write them off, whispering to ourselves or others, “When will their pity party end?” Third, we look to the Good News as proclaimed in the Gospel today: Jesus’s response to Simon’s ill mother-in-law was to draw near to her, take her hand, and help her rise. In Jesus’ time, fevers were sometimes thought of as signs of evil or demonic spirits at work in someone. To approach her was to risk affliction. Yet Jesus cared for her. The word we hear as “helped her up” is the same word as will later be used in reference to Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus raises this woman from the illness and stigmatization she was experiencing. He touched her. We know how valuable physical touch is, especially when we are not feeling well physically or emotionally. By touching her, Jesus recognized her humanity and communicated to her that she was worthy of his attention and care. This is healing.
Upon her healing, she started “waiting on them;” another translation reads: she starting “serving” them. Just as Jesus served her, she then served. The love and healing we receive is a gift meant to be shared with others who suffer and are in pain.