Fifth Sunday: Hope in the Word of Christ

Goodness gracious is life full and overwhelming! Thank God for the joy of the Gospel! I pray I will soon be able to write more regularly. For now, I again offer a meditation on the Sunday readings a couple days late. It is from the nourishment of the liturgy, from Scripture read with the Eucharist, that comes all our hope. If I can do nothing else, let me meditate on the Sunday readings, and find hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

JB 7:1-4, 6-7; PS 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; 1 COR 9:16-19, 22-23; MK 1:29-39

Mark’s Gospel continues to rush along. This week we had Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law, going away to a deserted place, and coming back to preach in the villages. We can get a better sense of the drama if, again, we see the order of events.

In verses 1-8, we begin with John the Baptist – we read that on the Second Sunday of Advent.

In 9-11, Jesus was Baptized (Baptism of the Lord, the first Sunday of Ordinary Time).

In 12-13 he (very briefly!) goes out to the wilderness to battle the devil (First Sunday of Lent).

In 14-20, he calls the first apostles, to be fishers of men (Third Sunday).

In 21-28, he preaches, is recognized by the demons, and his fame spreads everywhere (Fourth Sunday).

Then in 29-39, this last Sunday, the Fifth, Simon’s mother-in-law is his first physical miracle; then he does lots of miracles; then the crowds follow him to solitude; then he comes back to preach.

Quite a rush of activity! Mark doesn’t want us to miss the point. He compresses it so we can read it all together – but he also eliminates details that might distract us. Note, for example, that he is famous before he has done any miracles, merely for his preaching and casting out demons. We have noted the rush to repentance. We have noted Jesus’s own focus: he has a message of repentance to preach, and does not want us to get ahead of ourselves, lest we proclaim ourselves orthodox before we have repented of our sins.

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Another way to view Mark’s tight composition in chapter one is to look at the order of Jesus’s words.

His first saying is: “repent!”

His second is: “follow me!”

His third, to the demon who identifies him without repenting, is: “be silent!”

And this week, his fourth saying is, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.” Driven.

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Notice three kinds of miracles in these readings from Mark. At the lowest level, and last in Mark’s presentation, are his physical healings. A step above (and, in Mark, before) those is casting out demons. And a step above (and before) those is his preaching, his all-powerful word.

What is the casting out of demons? Let’s think of it as internal healing. Today, we might say there are two kinds of psychological healing. Some of it is physical, chemical: we flatter ourselves that “we know now” that epilepsy, for example, or even depression (sometimes) is more a physical ailment than a spiritual one. Fine: Jesus has the power to cure bodies, too! Other kinds of “psychological” ailments, however, are of a more spiritual nature, relating to sin and even to the impact of various kinds of demons: and Jesus is master over those, too.

But this upward motion, from healing our fevers to healing our brain chemicals to healing our spiritual ailments, culminates in his preaching: “For this purpose I have come,” he says. Not just to wave a magic wand, but to speak the truth to us – the truth about God, the truth about man, the truth about repentance and worship – and to heal us precisely so we can embrace that truth.

The people chase after him because he heals their bodies, but also because he heals their souls, and speaks with authority.

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The reading from Job reminds us why we long for his word. Our “life on earth” is in so many ways “a drudgery.” We are like “a slave who longs for the shade.” At night we lie awake and are “filled with restlessness until the dawn,” and so many of our days “end without hope.” Lord save us!

The people rush out to hear him, not because he lays a new burden them, but because his word is hope, healing, peace, rest. How we need his word. How we need him.

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In our reading from First Corinthians, Paul says, “woe to me if I do not preach!” He has given up “my right,” and instead “made myself a slave to all,” “weak, to win over the weak.” He has given his life “to all, to save at least some.”

The richness of the Gospel, as always, comes through in two directions. First, Paul has found the pearl of great price. Jesus’s word, the Gospel, the truth of his healing, is worth loosing everything for. Worth giving his life for: worth following Jesus to the wilderness, and through the villages, and deep into repentance, because this alone is true life.

But in so doing, Jesus and his Spirit come to dwell in Paul, so that he too becomes the messenger of Jesus’s Gospel, an instrument of his grace.

How do you let Jesus preach his Gospel to you?

eric.m.johnston

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