February 7, 2021 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Job 7, 1-4, 6-7 + Psalm 147 + 1 Corinthians 9, 16-19, 22-23 + Mark 1, 29-39
There is a characteristic of Jesus that is a unique element as Mark records the ministry of Jesus. It’s that constant fast-paced movement of Jesus and the crowds who are always chasing around after him. Already in just 29 verses of Chapter one, we hear that Jesus needed to sneak away quietly from everyone by getting up early, but even Simon and his companions track him down. One of the reasons he keeps moving on is to escape those people who are after him because he’s become a celebrity. These days we could call that crowd “Paparazzi”. They are interested in only one thing, another miracle, one more amazing demonstration of power. We have to remember, there was no TV or internet. Someone like Jesus was the best show in town, and no one wanted to miss the next episode or miracle. The people following him have failed to go deeper into what it all means. They have failed to ask the question that matters: “What is God doing here?” In fact, there is no evidence that they think God is involved at all. It’s all sensationalism.
This movement on to another place gives us a sense of how disillusioned Jesus was becoming with these people. No one ever asks who he is. Those healing events are meant to prod people into asking, “Who is this?” and “What is he doing here?” He wants to preach. They want miracles. We just heard Paul reflecting upon his role and his mission to preach, and the purpose of all preaching is to bring people into contact with God. That’s what I do here, but I’m not the only one. Bringing people into contact with God is a role and responsibility of every baptized man, woman, and child. I have always thought that children do it best. You know, preaching isn’t really about words, and you don’t always have to say something to bring people into contact with God. Every now and then, I get a few minutes of Facetime with my grand-nephews who about two and a half years old. Just listing to them jabber and watching their wide-eyed wonder at the simplest thing, like a caterpillar. Leaves me with a sense that a loving God is very near. When I hear a two-year old laughing, I think I hear God.
Yet, something happens to us as we grow up. We get self-conscious. We get cautious. We worry about how we look and what someone might think of us. We turn our faith into some kind of private matter for fear of offending someone or fear of looking silly or simple minded. Meanwhile, countless opportunities to preach by example and simple kindness slip by forever gone. People who are quick to forgive preach powerfully about the nature of God. People who are patient and kind, slow to anger and rich in mercy make these qualities of the divine believable and desirable opening a path to holiness and nearness to God.
There is something important to learn from the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel that can give our preaching credibility. It is the compassion that continues to motivate Jesus. It is extraordinary, because in spite of his weariness, in spite of his discomfort over becoming the “rock – star” of his age, he continues to love and care about those in crisis or pain. The miracles he works are not to get him more fame and greater crowds, but to awaken faith and trust in the Word of God and restore in all of us God’s vision of a world united as brothers and sisters.
Compassion like his breaks down stereotypes and our flimsy defenses that divide, segregate and marginalize. The ministry of Jesus is about far more than healing the sick. It is more about spiritual healing that does more than heal the body. It heals the soul. Compassion uncovers the basic humanity we all share. It knocks down the walls of self and allows us to realize our connection to all of God’s people. Compassion enables us to open our hearts to others to see one another as more than numbers or races. It enables us to feel the pain of others and compels us to heal that pain. In the compassionate, there is no hint of racism. Jesus healed a centurion’s child. He touched lepers. He met an enemy at a well knowing every dis-reputable thing she had ever done without a hint of humiliating her or abandoning her in disgrace.
In as much as we may preach the wonder of God’s love, we may also work miracles of charity and generosity through which our families and communities may be restored to hope and trust in the God who loves us.
There is a world outside of this church still waiting for a miracle of generosity and forgiveness. In world overwhelmed by anger and revenge, anything that does not give us more of that would be a miracle indeed, and the world may once again acknowledge, honor, and adore the God who is with us.