Scripture is like a mirror held up in front of the human race. We read the Bible and we see ourselves depicted. Of course, the Bible is first and foremost the story of God revealing himself to us, but it is also a picture of who we are. Sadness and joy, generosity and selfishness, anger and peace, all these and other human emotions can be found in scripture.
Take today’s first reading from chapter 7 of Job. It is a chillingly accurate description of serious depression. At night sleep eludes Job. During the night he restlessly longs for day to arrive, but then during the day he is longing for the night. It is a bleak, joyless time. The typical sufferer from depression thinks the cloud will never lift, and is tempted to despair. Sometimes we are shocked when someone with an outwardly successful life commits suicide. It is a reminder that depression is an illness that can strike anybody. The devastation felt by those left behind is terrible. Those who struggle with depression need to know that depression is an illness, not a weakness, and that professional help can make a big difference. Job felt that he had lost everything that made life worth living. But he clung to his faith, clung to it grimly at times. It is important to note that Job’s faith is shown as brutally honest. It allows him to ask why God tolerates a world in which the wicked flourish and the poor are left destitute and suffering.
The honest, direct way that Job speaks to God is part of his strength, as Job pours out his anguish. This dialogue helps him to keep going until joy comes once more. It is a reminder to us that true prayer is not always a neat and pretty thing, because we bring the whole of our life to God. In our responsorial psalm today we praise God who heals the broken-hearted. There are times when hearts are broken and spirits are crushed, and at times like these we turn to a Saviour who went to the cross and knows from the inside the sorrows that sometimes afflict human life.
At times like these, we pray all the harder. And in the gospel today (Mark 1.29-39) we find that Jesus himself prays. These little references to his prayer life slip past us almost unnoticed, like verse 35 where we read that long before dawn he rose and went to a lonely place to pray. You might think that the Son of God did not need prayer, but like us, he needed the strength, the consolation that comes from communion with the Father. It is interesting, too, that we find him in prayer like this (early in the morning, away from the crowds) not only in difficult times but in other situations too. In fact, right now, in the gospel we have just heard, he is setting out on his public ministry. He will be exposed to the critical, fickle public gaze, and to the hostile authorities. So he prays. He is beginning to realize his healing powers, and the sick are clamouring around him, a great and serious responsibility, so he prays. Already there is admiration, which will bring its own temptations, and he prays. Later before choosing the inner circle of the Twelve, he will go apart to pray before calling them. And as we all remember, in Gethsemane, faced with the horror of a cross, he prays, that he may not falter. In good times and in bad, we would be wise to do as he does, and to pray.