Sunday Sermon for February 4, 2024, the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39

In the midst of his suffering Job reveals his interior dispositions in question form: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?  Are not his day those of hirelings?”  He speaks of his months of misery and how his days end without hope.  His suffering had gone on long enough that he was convinced he would never see happiness again. 

What we need to consider is our own dispositions and what actually constitutes happiness for us.  For instance, St. Paul tells us in the second reading that he made himself the slave of all.  He tells us that an obligation had been imposed upon him regarding the preaching of the Gospel.  We also know that he worked at manual labor to pay his bills rather than expecting the people who heard his preaching to support him.

For many of us, all this would add up to a life of drudgery.  If we found ourselves in such a situation, we might experience anger and frustration because we felt oppressed by the weight of something be placed upon us from the outside.  But this was not the case with St. Paul.  His slavery was something freely chosen and became a real cause of joy. 

We might wonder how this could be.  The answer is very simple: St. Paul made a choice to do everything out of love for God and neighbor.  This way, his dispositions could be similar to those spoken of by our Lord when He told us that if we are pressed into service for one mile, go two.  St. Paul did not see his obligation or his slavery as a burden, but as a privilege. 

St. Paul was interested in the true good of the people, that is, in their salvation.  He desired that they would know and embrace the truth about God and about themselves.  These truths would set them free, as they did St. Paul.  These same truths will set us free.

Parents certainly understand these truths because they freely choose to make themselves slaves to their children.  They do this out of love and they find their joy in serving the children God has entrusted to their care.  There are times when this can be very difficult, but this allows the parents to practice greater charity and generosity.  In so doing, they will find greater freedom.

For those who are married, this is also what was freely chosen at the moment the vows were made.  Although it may be fairly easy to make oneself the slave of one’s children, it is much more difficult to make one’s self the slave of one’s spouse.  This slavery is not one of force or constraint, that is, a slavery that violates human dignity.  Rather, this is a choice to love whereby each spouse places the other before their own self-seeking to serve the other, build the other up, desire only the best for the other, etc.

This goes contrary to our fallen human nature.  However, it is actually the purpose for which we were created and the only way we will find true joy and fulfillment in our lives.  So many people seek fulfillment in pleasure, notoriety, money, material possessions, and other forms of selfishness.  This selfishness leads to making life feel empty, a drudgery, and hopeless.

In the Gospel we see how Jesus served the needs of others, healing those who were ill, casting out demons, and preaching the truth to the people.  These acts of charity brought Him great renown, but this was not what He sought.  Instead, we hear that He sought to stay hidden and chose to move on to other places when people were seeking Him. 

The Gospel also tells us how this is possible.  Jesus sought union with God in prayer.  It is through prayer that we receive the grace we need to be able to serve others selflessly.  It is through prayer that we conform ourselves more and more to God Who is love.  Moreover, it is through prayer that God’s love increases in us and, flowing from this, our love for others.  It is precisely this point that gains for us the ability to make the free choice to be a slave of the Lord seeking to serve Him in all we do.

By doing what we were created to do not only do we find fulfillment, but the more we are conformed to the will of God, the less we sin and the more joy we will experience.  We have this joy because we are doing God’s will which is always the best for us.  There is no drudgery in this nor is it the life of a hireling, it is a freely chosen life of charity; it is the freedom of the children of God! 

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit