Homily: Those Healings That Restore
Job 7: 14, 6-7 1 Corinthians 9: 16-19, 22-23 Mark 1: 29-39 The Message
Today’s Gospel story is a continuation of last week’s Gospel. It all happens on the first day of Jesus public life. Jesus announces the kingdom in the synagogue and casts a demon out of a man.
Then, without delay, Mark drags us in Jesus’ wake to the house of Peter’s sick mother-in-law. There isn’t time to draw breath. He arrives, they tell him immediately that she is ill, he goes into the room, takes her by the hand and, without a word, lifts her to her feet – healed! Only then do the men sit down to a meal, with the mother-in-law serving.
A Word with power
This is a message with power. The message causes things to happen. It’s not meant primarily to be heard, but to be experienced. It’s an event. It changes things. The message that God is acting to transform this world into the Kingdom of God is not just an announcement, but God in action!
The day has been eventful – Jesus’ first day out in his ministry – and already, by evening, they’re bringing him the sick and the demon-possessed. What is going on here?
Mark is telling us about the Good News. The coming of the Kingdom that Jesus announces means that a new power – the power of the Spirit – is loose. It is the power of liberation, because it breaks the hold of those things that imprison people: evil spirits and illness. Mark is telling us that a conquest has begun.
What he does is simply offer a no-strings-attached invitation in his message to ‘Repent!’. “Repentance” is the appropriate response to God from us. And in the face of the Good News of the Kingdom, we need to respond with joy – to reach out and grasp the gift.
You have to wonder what’s wrong with our preaching today…with mine this morning/evening. Why we are not being similarly mobbed by needy people who hear and experience the preaching of the Kingdom as the Best Possible News? Or just, why isn’t it enough to even get people to get their backsides into our pews?
I suspect it has to do with the fact that our Good News isn’t good enough. Or clear enough to get through all the other ‘good newses’ blaring out there today. Or maybe it sounds too otherworldly, doesn’t bring that immediate healing or relief or joy that it did when Jesus preached it with that clarity of healing and restoration.
Healing and restoration
There is an important social significance to Jesus’ healings and exorcisms. Both possession and illness does more than mess up the lives of those who suffer. They excluded the sufferers from participation in family, social and religious life. It’s not that Peter’s mother-in-law is ill and feeling poorly that is at stake, so much as that she is excluded from all that is happening – particularly from this special meal.
Look, and you will see how Jesus’ healings and exorcisms have this constant emphasis — restoration to the community. In other words, the message of liberation that Jesus preaches and enacts is not focused on making individuals feel better in themselves, but about restoring and creating a genuine community for those excluded by the system.
Where the outcasts are reconnected with genuine community, the kingdom takes on reality. Illness or disability alone don’t hinder people from living a full life. There is no suggestion in the gospels that a sick person can’t be a whole person. It’s not the illness per se from which people need Jesus’ liberation, but the prison of social exclusion. Individual life has meaning within the wider network of relationships, and it’s this exclusion that Jesus overcomes.
Jesus brings us together, he bridges barriers, exclusions, prejudices Note how Jesus concentrates on the meaning of the illnesses rather than the illnesses themselves. He pays almost no attention to the symptoms. He focuses on the effects of the illness. Jesus is a healer – someone who creates wholeness – rather than a curer.
And it’s when we grasp this significance that we will break out of the sterile debates between those on whom the whole significance of Jesus’ miracles is lost, and the others, whose only concern is whether or not we can believe that Jesus can do “magic”.
Small wonder, then, that Paul in our second reading is so motivated, excited and passionate about the gospel! This is the best news ever! It is something that he can’t keep to himself. He is determined to do everything he can to ensure that everyone hears the Good News. But, you see, ‘hearing’ is not just about words. Paul is well aware of the factors that can either hinder people or help them to “hear” in such a way that they encounter the Good News as something that converts and changes lives. He knows that the messenger is often the single greatest barrier to a good message! And so he sets himself the task of being, as far as possible, “all things to all people”.
This isn’t some sort of cynical sales pitch, or marketing ploy. It is about completely absorbing the message and, more importantly, genuinely identifying with those who hear it. Just as Jesus became a human being to identify with the hearers of the message, so Paul seeks to be in solidarity with his hearers. It means setting aside all the privileges life has given him. The Good News takes him to places and people he would never have dreamed of going. More importantly, it changes him. To identify with those to whom he preached — the Gentiles, the outcasts of his Jewish world — transforms Paul. That he did this effectively and sincerely is evidenced by the Christian communities that he founded – churches where the most impossibly different people manage to live together in genuine community.
Certainly those communities had problems, sometimes serious ones, in getting along. But
the focus of the reading from Paul today is on Paul’s conviction that Christian communities ought to reflect God’s passionate concern for everyone, starting with the least first. His churches weren’t the collections of like-minded people from similar social, ethnic and national backgrounds that our churches too sadly, often are today.
The recurring image that Paul falls back on is of a body – different, but equal, with each of us as a vital part in building up the body as a whole.
Church is about genuinely inclusive communities that contain such radical ifferences that it can only be the result of the Holy Spirit’s activity. It’s the new community that springs out of the announcement of the Good News, news of what God is doing in Jesus – news that we cannot possibly keep to ourselves. Lawrence Moore
Disappointment and Acceptance
When we look at today’s Gospel, it is disappointing to see that Jesus is already beginning to disappoint his disciples. They do not hear Good News. They’re anxious for him to raise the flag of rebellion and to use his power to drive the Roman occupiers out of their land.
But he goes off instead to a quiet place to commune with his heavenly Father. He has come to preach the good news of salvation through the power of love and sacrifice, rather than through the military power and domination that they see as the way things get done..
We don’t need to look far to find the reality of chaos and dissention in our world today. In fact, the forces of chaos seem at times to have the upper hand today, as nations are consumed by ethnic and religious hatred, communities are divided by strife and families are often torn apart by internal rivalries. Sometimes the chaos enters our own psyches as we struggle to see the meaning in our lives.
God is fully aware of these troubles and he has sent Jesus to give us the wisdom of loving concern, which is the only thing that can bring us peace and happiness. Jesus not only taught this wisdom, he lived it fully in how he cared for the sick and the possessed, and ultimately, in how he gave his life for us.
We, like the disciples, are all for destroying our enemies to achieve our purposes, but Jesus goes away to pray. This doesn’t mean that he telling us to ignore working to do good and overcome evil. But it does mean that, ultimately, it is only prayerful attainment of inner peace, trust in the power of the Lord and sincere love of others that will heal and restore the beautiful world that God has entrusted to us. Only a prayerful spirit can bring the peace and harmony that Jesus came to offer us. Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.