The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
4 February 2018 At Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL
Job 7, 1-4, 6-7 + Psalm 147 + 1 Corinthians 9, 16-19, 22-23 + Mark 1, 29-39
First there was last week an exorcism in the synagogue, now there is a healing in a home. Perhaps the places are significant for Mark, but you can think about that later. This is still the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Like most literature, characters and themes are introduced at the very beginning, so what we get here is a movement from synagogue to home and from home to a deserted place. Much of this gospel is going to move around in these locations. The paring of exorcism and healing is a preview of things to come, as well as the behavior of the disciples, and the pressing crowds. The disciples want to control Jesus. They see their role as his “manager”. It will take time to move them out of that role. The crowds see him as a wonder worker, and they will run all over the place to see what he does, what he can do for them. There is not a lot of interest in what he has to say which leads him to insist that he has come to proclaim the good news.
Little has changed since that day in Peter’s home making this Gospel just as relevant today as it was then. To put it simply, Mark is saying that we cannot let our relationship with Jesus be based upon what he can do for us or what we can get out of him. Those crowds would not look beyond the material signs. So, Jesus insists to the disciples that he came to proclaim the good news. The signs and wonders he performed were done to draw people to the Kingdom, to awaken them to the reality and presence of that Kingdom, and lead to repentance and conversion of life that is required for life in the Kingdom. There is something deeper and more important than these signs and wonders. These healings and casting out of demons are like visual aids making the Kingdom real and perceptible.
The driving out of demons is releasing people from the kingdom of darkness. The preaching comes first, and as the truth of the gospel begins to enlighten people’s minds, the demons can no longer maintain their hold. When Jesus enters the home of Peter, there is something very significant, but if we do not wonder or ask, “What does this mean”, we cannot grasp what Jesus is really saying and doing there. Mark uses a word that provides a clue. The Greek word represented by “helped her up” is the same word used by Saint James in speaking of the sacrament of the sick when our ritual quotes James and says: “the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise them up.” The word has a number of meanings: wake, rouse, raise, help to rise, relieve, restore to life. We should not try to limit the word to a single meaning but should use all the meanings. The mother-in-law gets up and begins to serve the guests. The presence of Jesus restores this woman to her life of service. The Greek word used by Mark to describe “waiting on them” is diaconia. Mark is not just talking about household tasks here, he is referring to service in the sense of “ministry.”
As we continue to explore Mark’s Gospel from now until Lent, we would do well to keep asking “what does this mean?” Even more so, we might take a serious look at how we relate to and what we expect of Jesus Christ. Getting all pious and prayerful when we want something without listening and responding to what he says to us puts us in the category of those crowds who never looked beyond the signs to being the repentance and conversion that is required for the Kingdom of God. Finally, in the last verse today, there is an invitation, “Let us move on to the neighboring villages.” The “us” here is not Jesus speaking of himself. It describes the role of his disciples. Spoken here today, this Gospel calls us into a more intentional discipleship and a share in the very word of Jesus Christ, a work of healing, restoring, liberating, and lifting up.