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Fr. Jo's Reflection for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Yr B, February 4, 2024

Jesus delved into the untoward territory of evil and the demonic with the strong arm of a true lord and master; after all, that was why He was sent. Last Sunday, we saw Him strike that domain with the blow of divine power, forcing a man out of the throes of demonic oppression. Yet, for every single person freed, Satan holds two more in demonic bondage. He spares no breath as he skewers and squints to inflict untold suffering on the rest of God’s children. Therefore, we are faced day by day by misery and plagued with suffering, mysterious illnesses, environmental disasters, wars, acutely manufactured lies, obsequious ideological dicta framed to turnover and turnaround our socio-moral terrain. Evil seeks nothing but the capitulation of all children of God to its governing structure. The evil one graduates day by day acolytes of his infamous trickery who cheerlead for him against God’s vulnerable children. He equips them with smart tongues, puréed eloquence to sway the unsuspecting to his ways. We require the support of God’s spirit in order to escape the onslaught of the demonic.

Today’s first reading presents Job as one caught in the throes of the demonic. Faced with depression and untold misery, he views life as drudgery and sees himself like a slave chained with a hot iron rod. Sleep eludes him and the night just drags on as he growls in anguish. As we know, that’s not the entire story for Job. In fact, today’s responsorial psalmody, “Laudate Dominum, qui sanat contritos corde” (Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted) gives a hint about the reward of those who, like Job, in the face of suffering place their trust in God—He binds up their wounds and sustains them amidst every adversity. Job, by proving himself one whose loyalty belongs to the Almighty, overcomes every woe and is rewarded and clothe with divine recompense.  Yet, we find him inquiring and even demanding a response from God Himself about why the righteous should suffer. We’re all too familiar with that line of questioning in our own life. We all want answers from God. Don’t we?

God’s answer to Job and us is Jesus. In order to remake the entire world order damaged by sin, God, in Jesus inaugurates a new kingdom. The Preface of the solemn feast of Christ the Universal King tell about the constitutive elements of this new kingdom. To establish this kingdom, the anointed One of God will offer Himself on the altar of the Cross as a spotless sacrifice to bring us peace. In this way, He will accomplish the mysteries of human redemption and make all created things subject to His rule. The Preface then details a line item of what follows: “An eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” Kingdoms do not come without a fight. Thus we see at the climax of Jesus’ life, the entire panoply of evil—betrayal, hatred, injustice, institutional corruption, violence, cruelty—descends upon Him. He fights them off, not armor for armor, but using the weapon of love and mercy: the true and, in fact, only weapon needed to swallow up even the worst of all enemies—death.

Today’s gospel has Him at the first stage of the battle for the kingdom. He shows in the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law that He possesses power over sickness. By confronting and expelling demons inhabiting people, He shows, too, that He could hold captivity captive. But He knew that His mission extends beyond healing a single fever. [I imagine that Peter’s mother-in-law did suffer another fever that ended her mortal life]. Expelling a few demons was such great feat, but He needed to strike that final uppercut blow that would send the devil spinning forever. Hence, at the final stage of the battle, He took the war to the devil by submitting to death that He might confront the evil one at his own territory of the grave. There He finished the battle of freeing those held captive and bringing them to the new life of the resurrection.

Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo


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