5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Lectio Divina on Mk 1,29-39
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.
At that time: 29 Leaving the synagogue, Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him of her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her; and she served them. 32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together about the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Every one is searching for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
I. Read: understand what the text says, 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!
II. Meditate: apply what the text is saying 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?