Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
Epiphany 5 B – Sunday, February 8, 2015
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
|Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law|
“And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
This last sentence of our gospel passage today summarizes both last week’s and today’s gospel; Jesus went around Galilee announcing the good news and healing people.
Last week’s gospel passage and that of today tell of one day in Jesus’ early ministry in Capernaum. It proceeds in four stages; Jesus goes to the synagogue, Jesus visits Peter’s house, Jesus heals many who come to the house, Jesus goes to the wilderness to pray in the night.
First, Jesus and his first four disciples (Peter, Andrew, James and John) go worship in the synagogue. There Jesus teaches with an authority unexpected in a carpenter from a little backwater named Nazareth. His teaching is interrupted by a man with an unclean spirit. Jesus frees the man from the unclean spirit but not before the spirit outs Jesus as the Holy One of God.
In Jesus’ time and society, nonhuman persons such as angels, spirits and demons were considered higher up in the cosmic hierarchy. There was Our God, the Most High God at the top. Then other Gods and sons of deities and archangels. Then angels, spirits and demons just above mere humans. Angels, spirits and demons knew more about higher spheres of existence than humans.
And that is why Mark uses an unclean spirit to validate Jesus’ unusual place in the honor system of his society. Jesus is not simply the son of a carpenter turned teacher and healer, he is the Holy One of God.
Right after his eventful visit to the synagogue, Jesus and his disciples go to Peter’s house. Jesus has compassion for Peter’s mother-in-law who is sick with a fever. He approaches her, takes her by the hand and lifts her up. I see tenderness in this moment and I wonder what it would be like to be seized by Jesus’ hand and lifted up out of suffering.
Peter’s mother-in-law, who unfortunately, remains unnamed because of Mark’s patriarchal form of writing, is healed instantly. That means not only that her physical ailment is removed, but also that she is brought back to participation in the community of her family home. She is so moved that, emulating Jesus, she brushes aside sabbath rules and starts serving those assembled in the house.
The mother-in-law’s reaction to Jesus’ ministry to her is one of engagement in community service. In that way, she prefigures the diaconal ministry that will come into existence in early Christian communities who also met in family homes. She is a proto-deacon, well before Stephen and his all-male (or so we are led to believe) colleagues.
As the sun comes down, the sabbath comes to an end and other villagers are now emboldened to bring their own sick and possessed to Jesus. They are now allowed to perform the work of moving their ailing ones to the door of Peter’s house.
Sabbath precluded anything that smacked of work but it apparently didn’t stop gossip. Jesus’ healings at the synagogue and at Peter’s house have echoed throughout the village. And people want a piece of the action.
And late into the evening, Jesus will cure many of their diseases and free many of their demon. By now Jesus has learned his lesson and he silences the demons before they divulge whom they know him to be.
We may wonder about this desire for secrecy about his divine nature. Why would Jesus not want that to become the focus of his ministry?
Jesus wanted most of all to teach his people about the nearness of the Kingdom of God. But that nearness had more to do with inner work than outer liberation from the Roman imperial domination system.
Two roles threatened to jeopardize Jesus’ ability to teach his people as he wished; one what that of Holy Man or super-healer, and the other was that of Messiah as seen in a political lens.
Zealous nationalistic jews were hoping for a Messianic uprising against the Roman occupation and people could easily have used Jesus as a catalytic figure for that if Jesus had so chosen. But the gospel shows us that Jesus’ fiery love of God does not translate into nationalistic zealotry.
The other role that threatened Jesus to get lost in his own vocation was how gifted he was at making people whole physically and spiritually. Jesus time and again gives people back to their community by healing their disease or freeing them from what possesses them.
People could readily relate to that part of his ministry and there was always more human misery to be cured wherever Jesus was. He and his disciples could have established themselves as healers anywhere they wanted. But the healing was only a sign of who Jesus was it was not the goal of his ministry.
And finally, that evening Jesus gets to retire for the night in the crowded home of Peter and Andrew and their families. He must have been weary from a very full day. But still, he awakes in the still of the night and chooses to slip away and go in the nearby wilderness to pray.
I find it tantalizing that the gospel does not tell us what Jesus prayed about or how he prayed. So I allow my imagination to fill in the picture for us. Maybe Jesus was wondering what he was truly called to and needed to discuss that with God. Was he called to stay on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and conduct a ministry of healing? That certainly seemed an attractive option to his Capernaum-based disciples.
Or was he called to teach the Good News of God’s Kingdom being near at hand? Or was he called to do both? But how could he make sure his message didn’t get lost in the hype created around the healings?
Whatever Jesus’ prayer was that night, he considered it important enough to pray to sacrifice some sleep for it. And by the time his disciples had successfully hunted for him, he was ready to keep moving deeper into his vocation.
It was probably not what the disciples wanted to hear, but Jesus wanted them to move on to spread his message widely. Later, he would return to Capernaum from time to time, but he would not let any single location have a claim on his ministry. And his ministry would continue to include both healing and teaching.
So what are our ministries in our lives? Are we letting any one ministry take over at the expense of the others? Are we attached to success in one at the expense of the need for the other?
Are we remembering to often take time away from the grind stone in order to talk it over with God and listen for what God is lovingly whispering in our heart?
Pray until you discern whom you are and what you are about and then pray some more that God will do the heavy lifting with you or even for you.