New England is riding rough and tumble into Super Bowl celebrations. Rounding out the refreshments and planning for the game are preoccupying householders everywhere. Threats of another storm, COVID vaccine distribution and the arrival of tax season are not derailing the pride and the purpose of Tom Brady’s tenth Super Bowl performance. The pursuit of the exceptional and the promise of excellence are propelling past the mundane realities of February’s fury. Still, eyes and hearts are clinging to comfort in the familiar ritual of football’s Super Bowl. The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time charges us with the same tasks with clarity and direction.
The sorrow of Job’s story seeps from every line in the first reading. He laments the brevity of life, the quickness of loss and the expiration date of happiness. But there is a counterpoint to the anxiety and the depression in the Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 147.
“He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He tells the number of the stars;
he calls each by name.“
Deftly juxtaposed with Job’s sorrow is the promise of a gentle, loving God who embraces that broken heart and spirit. This is a God who does not wave a magic wand, but a God who tenderly gathers the bruised and the broken and binds wounds just as surely as hearts. This is a God who relates, who touches, who claims, who heals. This is the God who embraces the forlorn Job and makes a difference: a God who actually serves, who meets the needs of the very human persons who are before him.
That image explodes with significance: these are not human beings begging subservience to a higher power, playing with superstitious offerings or searching for symbolic shields. Instead, this is about the reality of relationship between the Creator and the Created. It is born of love, of compassion, and reveals the wholesome nature of the most ordinary of beings. We are each Job; we are each broken and emptied, sorrowful and lost at different times. We are also incredibly loved and cared for by a God of dynamic and imaginative energy who cradles our sorrows and companions us through the storms of our not-quite-as-mundane-as-we-thought-lives.
God as companion is both an enticing and elusive concept. But then there is the Gospel, and clarity arrives:
“Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
Relationship with God, with that “something greater than self”, is discovered, maintained and nurtured in prayer, in the mystery of Quiet whenever that arrives or is discovered or is chosen. Jesus opens the door to understanding with humble simplicity: his actions model his priorities and then fuel his purpose. Purpose. In this, too, Jesus models a unique and enviable self-awareness. But it is also an invitation to find that same anchor in human life, to discover our personal and unique purpose, to live it to the full.
The Super Bowl is only a sideshow that offers entertainment, connects with pride and shows some living out a sense of purpose. The Gospel invites each person to find the space and the place where living out true purpose is really possible every day of the year.