What if the whole world prayed,
meditated and served like Jesus?
by Michael J. McCann
In reflecting on this Sunday’s gospel, we find Jesus in full mission mode in Capernaum in north Galliee. He says to his disciples, ‘Let us go into the neighbouring town and cities, that I may preach there also; for this purpose am I come.” He is a man with a mission, but not just a man. We see him as a divine person, working wonders, with the mission of telling the world about his Father and about his Father’s love for each human being, namely that each one of us is not alone, that each of us is part of God’s family, that we belong to God now and forever. This is his business. The mercy shown in his actions and words are what nowadays are called a ‘mission statement’
and Jesus states his mission statement loudly and clearly.
St Mark’s gospel passage is very interesting under a number of headings. It is a series of a dozen or so factual statements, each worthy of its own explanation, reflection or commentary. Young St Mark is anxiously hurrying to report everything. He describes or explains little or nothing. It is very much the report of a young man in a hurry. He places more emphasis on listing the facts, than on giving the details. For example, no mention is made of the name of either St Peter’s wife’s nor that of his mother-in-law.
The disciples and apostles come out of the synagogue in Capernaum and go with Jesus into Peter’s nearby house. No advance warning is given to Peter’s poor nameless mother-in-law that guests were about to arrive. She was lying down, sick with a fever. No one asks Jesus to do anything. He is just told of the situation, takes her hand, and cures her. Here, Jesus breaks with the Jewish tradition of the times regarding the sick. You did not touch a sick person as it made you unclean, and cleanliness was a priority in Jewish society. Jesus simply does things differently. With greater mercy.
Strangely enough, there is no indication of any thanks being given to Jesus. Peter’s mother-in-law simply gets up and starts preparing food for her uninvited guests.
This gospel passage is written very much in a middle-eastern Semitic style, where exaggeration for the purposes of effect is part and parcel of the story.
We hear that “All the town was crowding around at the door” of Peter’s house and “Everyone is looking for you”.
No recorded words are spoken here by Jesus. He gets on with what he sees as his day job, and simply cures both the physically and mentally sick who come to him at Peter’s house. The implied idea in the gospel is ‘go to Jesus and he will cure you’.
The short message is that by the power of grace, we pray that God be present in our lives, and when so, our lot and our lives improve.
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Job began to speak:
Is not man’s life on earth nothing more than pressed service,
his time no better than hired drudgery?
Like the slave, sighing for the shade,
or the workman with no thought but his wages,
months of delusion I have assigned to me,
nothing for my own but nights of grief.
Lying in bed I wonder, ‘When will it be day?’
Risen I think, ‘How slowly evening comes!’
Restlessly I fret till twilight falls.
Swifter than a weaver’s shuttle my days have passed,
and vanished, leaving no hope behind.
Remember that my life is but a breath,
and that my eyes will never again see joy.
The Book of Job tells the story of the father of a family who is beset by economic and family calamity, the same kind of calamity that is evident in our times. Today’s reading, taken from Job’s song of misery, comes from the second part of the Book. It takes the form of a poetic dialogue between Job and three friends who offer him shallow platitudes rather than wise comfort. Job is left on his own to struggle with the problem of suffering. What he has to learn is that God’s action in our lives, even in times of suffering, is always a gift of grace. It is also the reason why Jesus came among us. He came to teach and to heal, to suffer and die and rise again. He came to offer us a new way of seeing reality.
LORD, Adonai, please help me to understand that my relationship with you is rooted in your free gift of grace. It is not based on my goodness. It is based on your love. Give me the grace today to recognise and wrestle with my deepest insecurities. Help me to bring my despondencies and anxieties into your tender presence. Teach me how to persevere when the road seems tough. Teach me to trust your love, mercy, justice and holiness, and so transcend even my deepest fears. Give me the wisdom of Job to bless and praise you in all things. Amen.
Psalm – Psalm 147:1-6
Our psalm today invites all who suffer to embrace the healing and transforming power of praise. The psalm answers Job’s lament: the LORD heals the broken-hearted! How? Through the power in the prayer of praise! God’s compassionate presence is vast, unlimited. So is God’s power to transform lives, and the wisdom of praise is the key. Through praise, lives are rebuilt and changed. Refugees find a home. Wounds are bound up. Like the stars, people are called by name. Are we ready to praise our God? Are we ready to delight in our God with all of creation, singing and dancing as on a day of joy even in the midst of pain?
LORD, Adonai, hear my praise today! How wonderful you are! How glorious! I worship you! I adore you! I honour you! I acclaim you! I glorify your holy name! I give you thanks! LORD, you are strong! You are great! You are truly awesome! You are beautiful! You are just and gentle! You heal the broken-hearted! You bring the exile home! You call us all by name! To know you is life! To serve you is freedom! To rejoice in you and praise you brings light to our darkness! Accept my prayer and praise today. Amen.
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
I do not boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty which has been laid on me; I should be punished if I did not preach it! If I had chosen this work myself, I might have been paid for it, but as I have not, it is a responsibility which has been put into my hands. Do you know what my reward is? It is this: in my preaching, to be able to offer the Good News free, and not insist on the rights which the gospel gives me.
So though I am not a slave of any man I have made myself the slave of everyone so as to win as many as I could. For the weak I made myself weak. I made myself all things to all men in order to save some at any cost; and I still do this, for the sake of the gospel, to have a share in its blessings.
Why does Paul speak of offering the gospel “free of charge” in Corinth? Why does he say he has become “all things to all” there? Why did he have to defend himself? It seems there were good reasons. First of all he wanted to fulfil his saving mission. But he also wanted to put the Christians of Corinth on their guard against false preachers and wonder-workers out for money. Instead, Paul wants his followers to love God. He wants them to live holy lives. He wants them to walk lovingly in the path of the crucified Lord. Are we ready for the challenge? Are we ready to love God, imitate Jesus and breathe the Spirit together?
Lord Jesus, enlighten the eyes of my heart today. Fill me with the full measure of your loving presence. Help me be myself with you. You are the friend who knows me through and through. Like a mother hen you cover me with your warm feathers and hide me in the shelter of your strong wings. Protect me from false preachers today. Teach me to discern the glib tongue and the false promise. Help me see through the ideologies that deny your vision for the world. Help me breathe the air of your love and walk in the bright ways of your compassion. Let me walk with you as you carry your cross with the poor and those who suffer today. Amen.
Gospel Reading – Mark 1:29-39
On leaving the synagogue, Jesus went with James and John straight to the house of Simon and Andrew. Now Simon’s mother-in-law had gone to bed with fever, and they told him about her straightaway. He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up. And the fever left her and she began to wait on them.
That evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils. The whole town came crowding round the door, and he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another; he also cast out many devils, but he would not allow them to speak, because they knew who he was.
In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. Simon and his companions set out in search of him, and when they found him they said, ‘Everybody is looking for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.’ And he went all through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out devils.
The gospel tells of the time Jesus spent healing in Capernaum. First, he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Then he ministered into the night such were the crowds who came to the door. The next morning Jesus got up early to find time to pray alone. But the disciples tracked him down and went with him into the villages where the teaching and healing continued. But there is a subtext in the second reading and the gospel. Jesus is not just a wonder-worker. He is above all a suffering servant. How easy it is to seek the wonders and evade the wisdom he teaches and the self-sacrificing service he offers! Both are made present in the Eucharist. The Crucified One is the Holy One of God, the Risen Eucharistic Lord, the Bearer of God’s love in the cosmos. Are we ready to follow his example?
Lord Jesus, you must have been exhausted in Capernaum, giving of yourself late into the night. Yet you rose early to seek your Father and spend time in prayer. Grace me to make time for prayer. Open to me the ways of meditation. Teach me how to worship and serve in spirit and in truth. Help me to bring light and life and comfort to the world in which I live. Help me to witness to you the Suffering Servant, the Risen Lord, the Loving Eucharistic Saviour, the Friend of the Poor, and the Bearer of God’s love in the cosmos. Amen.
Word of God and Salesian Life by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB
This Gospel passage offers us the opportunity to contemplate a day in the life of Jesus during the first stage of his mission in Galilee. It was a day like so many others of hectic activity on behalf of the sick who had gathered around him. This Jesus, tireless and effective healer, may seem strange to us today, beyond our concerns and far from our world. Despite what we know of him and all they have told us, we are not aware that he has ever healed us of anything. Our encounters with him have not left us cured of our ills or any less afflicted by them. Evil still reigns in our world and in our hearts. Our loved ones are still sick, and not only in body. Some have been taken from us prematurely in death, the radical evil that seems to dominate our lives, as Job so well describes.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
Our text presents two different scenes and two distinct themes. The first recalls briefly the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mk 1, 29-31). This takes us to the end of the first day of Jesus’ public ministry, during which he had already cured the man who was possessed (Mk, 21-28). A comment is added about the struggle of Jesus against the evil that afflicts so many people. It is significant that Jesus devotes an entire day of his messianic activity to combat sickness, and to overcome the devil who would not keep silent because “he knew” who Jesus was. The devil is not a fit person to proclaim the identity of the Messiah.
The second scene is even more interesting. Jesus takes refuge in prayer, very early in the morning. His prayer is “interrupted” by Peter and his companions, and he is “restored” to the people in need (Mk 1, 35-39). The disciples go in search of him because everybody is looking for him. Jesus leaves his prayer and leaves Capernaum to go and preach throughout Galilee.
The cure of Peter’s mother-in-law is the first of eight cures narrated in the Gospel (1, 29-31.44-45; 2,1-12; 3,1-5; 5,24-34; 7,31-37; 8,22-26; 10,46-52). There are no extraordinary details in the account. The emphasis is not so much on Jesus the miracle-worker, as on the purpose of discipleship – the one who is cured must serve others. As soon as she is healed, Peter’s mother-in-law begins to serve. Her service to the community of Jesus and his disciples is the proof that she has been healed. It is also a description of how a disciple is to act. The wellbeing that comes from being healed by Jesus is a gift that must be shared with others through service. The first day of Jesus’ ministry ends, not just with the cure of a woman suffering from fever, but with a service offered to the community of Jesus and his disciples.
Jesus begins his ‘second’ day alone with God. Mark does not often present Jesus at prayer (Mk 6, 46; 14, 32-42). Here he lets us see that after a day of intense activity working miracles of healing, Jesus was in need of solitude with God. But his retreat did not last long. Many people were searching for him – everybody, Mark says – and he had to return to his ministry. His followers went in search of him and let him know that people were looking for him. The people needed him so his disciples had to go and look for him, and keep searching till they found him. It is interesting that it is his followers who ‘remind’ Jesus that he still has work to do. All of Galilee is waiting for him – even the possessed!
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
Summing up the day’s activity, the evangelist presents Jesus healing and praying, among the people who were in need of him. He himself was in need of God before he could return to the people. The cure of Peter’s mother-in-law was made possible by Peter who had become Jesus’ disciple and allowed him the use of his house. Jesus cannot live with evil. When he entered the house he freed the woman from her fever and restored her to her household work. Healing on the Sabbath (1, 21) and touching a woman (1,31) were not the best way to work miracles! Jesus does good wherever he goes, and does not feel obliged to observe social conventions.
His fight against evil goes on until nightfall. When eventually Jesus escapes from the sick, he goes alone in search of God. His disciples interrupt his prayer and solitude because, even early in the morning, the people continue to look for him. In this Jesus recognises the urgency of getting on with his mission. God does not distract him from the work he has to do. The solitude he sought was momentary. The people’s need calls him back to his task. There is no rest for the one who is sent. As long as there are people to hear the good news, and people who are searching for God, the apostle has no time to rest, no place to hide. Not even prayer can serve as an excuse.
We could ask ourselves today why, even though we have believed in him for a long time, we have not discovered the kind of Jesus that the people of Galilee saw in a typical day of his life. The gospel account offers three starting points for reflection. If we meditate on what those people did, we will be able to do the same.
Jesus was invited to the house of a disciple and immediately they spoke to him about a sick person in bed with fever. It was enough for him to know that somebody was sick for him to cure her. Perhaps this points to one of the reasons why Jesus does not free us from our ills, as he would like to do. We do not invite him to visit us and we do not speak to him about the evil that exists in our house. If we really want to be healed, the first step is to invite him, even though we know that not everything in the house is in order. We need to open the doors to Christ who comes to us, without being afraid that he might discover our illness, or the evil which controls us and is beyond our strength. We ask him to share our home and our family with us, even if we know that maybe not everybody in the house will welcome him.
The evil in us or in our loved ones, in whatever form it might exist, is not reason enough to keep Jesus at a distance from us or from our families. Inviting him to our homes will offer him the opportunity to come close to us and heal us. With Jesus in the house, evil is less oppressive, less unbearable, and our family will be spared misfortune. We must have the courage to introduce Jesus into our homes, as Peter did, without worrying too much about whether everything is in order, or whether everyone will welcome him, or serve him when he comes. We need to lose our fear of speaking to him about our ills which we hide from others but nourish within us. By revealing them to Jesus we discover that he is our saviour. Our healing depends, like that of Peter’s mother-in-law, on our sincerity with Jesus. Hiding our ills from him condemns us to continue to live with them, secretly nourishing them.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons… and he healed many who were sick with various diseases. It is true that not all can invite Jesus to come to their homes, or to visit their sick. However, it is always possible to go to him with our own illness and sinfulness. When evening comes, and we have finished our daily occupations, we can find some moments of calm, and go to him with all our ills, in the hope that he will set us free, once and for all. There is no one else to go to! Strange as it may seem, that is the reality. We lose many opportunities of being with Jesus because we feel unworthy of him. The truth is, we are unworthy, but this is not a good reason to stay away from him. Rather, it is the best possible reason to go in search of him who came, not for the just, but for sinners.
If we have no better motive to search for him, at least we have our sins and our sinfulness which those around us have to put up with. This is a very good reason to keep on searching for him, longing to be set free from our personal demons. We fill our days with many activities which could well wait for another day, and with worries that last only for a short time. We get anxious about our inability to do anything really worthwhile. Why not find a moment of peace and calm to spend with Jesus, and give him the chance to heal our ills? There is nothing shameful about having to admit our sinfulness. Only those who know they are ill will look for someone to cure them. If we ignore our ills, and try to forget them, instead of being healed we make them worse.
In the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, and they found him and said to him, “Every one is searching for you.” We should not be surprised that, when nobody invited him to their house or came to look for him in the market place, Jesus decided to withdraw and hide. There are times when we may have to go to look for him. We need not be discouraged by his disappearance. And we will find him, as they did on that occasion. They knew where to look for him, in a deserted place, and they knew what he was doing – praying. Prayer is much more difficult when we feel that Jesus is absent, but it is more effective then because it is harder, and it is the way to find him again. Anyone who knows how to pray in this way will know where God has gone and will be able to persuade him to return to all who continue to look for him, to all who have need of him, as so many people do in today’s world. Anyone who prays will never lose hope of finding God, and persuading him to return to the world and meet those who are searching for him.
The world needs people who know where to find God, people who know well the places where he hides, because they have decided to follow him and because they have spent time with him in prayer. Anyone who knows how to pray knows where to go to seek healing for himself and for others. We should not forget that it was the disciples, Simon and his companions, who knew where Jesus had gone and brought him back to his work. It is the task of disciples, then, to meet Jesus, and bring him to those who seek him. Christians of today, whether they realize it or not, have need of Jesus. People still desire him and he must return to our world.
And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons. Who among us is willing to spend time looking for Jesus to bring him back to us, for there are many of us who seek him? Who will persuade him that we still have need of him? It is worth being a disciple and spending time with him, getting to know him, and to know where he stays, in order to bring him back to the people who are looking for him. For many people their salvation may depend on there being someone, some apostle, who knows where Jesus is, and can bring him back. It happened in Galilee long ago. Why can it not happen again in our day?