Jesus’ Priority, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), February 5, 2012

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
February 5, 2012
Jb 7:1-4 6-7, Ps 147:1-6, 1Cor 9:16-19 22-23, Mk 1:29-39


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click at the bottom of the page. The following text guided this homily:

  • In today’s readings, we encounter a lot of suffering. In the first reading, Job is tossing and turning at night, complaining about the “months of emptiness and nights of misery.” He has lost most of the members of his family, all his livestock, even his own health, and as he lay with boils all over his skin, the emotional pain overwhelmed him. God would soon come to his aid. In the Gospel, we see that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law had a bad fever, which Jesus cured. Then, after sundown, they brought to Jesus all “who were sick or possessed with demons.” St. Mark tells us that the “whole city was gathered around the door.” Jesus cured the sick and cast out demons. It was likely very grueling work, because in no part of the Gospel did Jesus ever do “general healing services,” but cured the ill or the possessed one-by-one. It was probably close to midnight by the time he finished. He arose early the next morning, “while it was still very dark,” and went to a deserted place to pray. St. Mark tells us that Simon and his companions “hunted” for Jesus, and when they found him said, “Everyone is searching for you.” Doubtless the hordes had brought many other of the sick and the possessed from surrounding regions to Jesus.
  • “Everyone is searching for you.” We might expect that Jesus’ response would have been one of great joy. After all, he would later say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will refresh you” (Mt 11:28). He wanted people coming to him with their burdens. He wanted to give them refreshment. But Jesus, when he was told that everyone was looking for him, didn’t respond by saying, “Great! Our strategy is working.” Rather he said, doubtless to their surprise, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.” Jesus had come to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. He realized in prayer that the people were coming to him not so much to receive what he wanted to give them, but to obtain from him what they themselves wanted. The crowds looked at him as a wonder-worker, as the great doctor, as the famed exorcist. But Jesus had a different set of priorities than the crowds. He wanted them to accept him on his own terms, not theirs. He wanted them to come to him not principally as the doctor of their mortal bodies, but as the Savior of their immortal souls.
  • We see these same priorities of Jesus at work in other episodes of the Gospel. After he had fed the 5,000 families with five loaves and two fish, the crowds walked several miles along the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee to be with Jesus. Upon disembarking, when he saw the crowds, Jesus said to them with great candor: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, … because you ate your fill of the loaves” (Jn 6:26). They were looking more for a baker than a savior! Jesus again showed what his real priorities were when a paralytic was brought to him by friends, who, not being able to get him in through the front door, climbed up on the roof, opened it and lowered their friend down below. Jesus, when he saw the faith of the friends, turned to the paralyzed man and said, not, “I cure you. Stand up, take up your mat and go home,” but rather, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mk 2:5). The most important thing Jesus wanted to do was to cure him of his sins. In order to silence his critics who claimed he was blaspheming since only God can forgive sins, Jesus, responded by healing the man’s paralysis, so that they might realize that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Likewise, Jesus worked all of his miracles, not because that was the reason for which he came down from heaven, but to give divine authentication to the words that he was teaching. The miracles were the dramatic exclamation points to the sentences of his teaching.
  • Today all of us have come here to St. Anthony’s Church, but the question Jesus wants us to ask ourselves is why we’ve come here. Have we come here hungering for what he wants to give us or for what we want him to give us? Are we here trying to accord our priorities with His, or His with ours? It’s still common today that many people, like those in today’s Gospel, come to the Lord mostly as a miracle worker, as a benefactor who can pull strings to get us out of a jam, as a powerful friend who can provide a quick fix to a problem we’re facing. Jesus, however, wants more. As he said in today’s Gospel, the reason he came from heaven to earth was to proclaim the message of the kingdom. What he wants from us is to hear that message, embrace it, and live it. He wants us to respond to it with the same type of life-changing faith that we see in Mary and the apostles. That’s his priority.
  • Many of us might think that Jesus has his priorities mixed up. After all, imagine how full this Church would be if Jesus, through me, were working tremendous miracles of healing. We could depopulate St. Luke’s and bring everyone here. People would come from all over the city and the state to be cured. The dramatic exorcisms would bring national and international media. All those with cancer, or paralysis, or back-pain, or emotional scars would bring them here and leave completely healed. Probably it would also bring some of the criminals and drug dealers who, in seeing this incredible divine power working through a man, might be brought to conversion. But that’s not the way Jesus chooses to do it. Instead, he sends a man ordained in his person, to preach the Gospel of the kingdom. From Jesus’ own divine — and therefore correct — perspective, the greatest gift he can give any of us, whether we’re ill and suffering or not, is his word! Jesus wants us here most to listen to his preaching, to embrace his word, and in consuming the Word-made-flesh in the Eucharist, to become so one with the word that we become living commentaries of life in the kingdom. In doing so, he’s not ignoring all our ills and problems, but trying to address them at their root. All of these sufferings and difficulties are symptoms of the same essential cancer: the cancer of sin. Physical pain comes as a result of the first sin of our parents at the fall. Our emotional pain and many of our illnesses come the wounds that our sins and others’ have caused. Jesus isn’t ducking any of those difficulties, but in his divine omniscience is trying to lead us to what is the cure for them all.
  • We see Jesus’ priorities at work in the lives of his first apostles. They stressed that the proclamation of the kingdom was paramount. The first time Jesus sent them out, he gave the instructions first to preach that the kingdom is among them, and then to cure (Mt 10:7-8). In the time of the early Church, the apostles recognized that, because their first duty was to “prayer” and the “ministry of the word,” they no longer had the time for other good works of service, so they ordained seven deacons (Acts 6:3-4). St. Paul even gave up baptizing — which others could do — so that he could travel more to preach God’s saving word: “For Christ did not send me to baptize,” he said, “ but to proclaim the gospel” (1 Cor 1:17). You may be surprised to discover that the fathers of the Second Vatican Council, in their document on the priesthood, said that “it is the first duty of priests… to preach the Gospel of God to all men” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 4). Preaching is a more important duty than even the celebration of the sacraments because our practice of the sacraments is dependent upon having our faith in them aroused.
  • In today’s second reading, St. Paul says, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” In other words, he felt under an inner compulsion to share the Gospel he had received. That’s what led him to spend his entire adult life after his conversion crisscrossing the then known world proclaiming that Gospel, despite enormous distances on foot, great sufferings, and rejection. He became all things to all people, as he writes, in order to save as many as he could. He did this because he knew that the Gospel was the path of salvation and he loved others enough to come to spread it. Likewise, Jesus knew that it was the means of salvation and he placed it even more important than helping another day’s worth of ill and infirm people have their physical infirmities cured.
  • Each of us has a great lesson to learn in this. God wants more from us than merely for us to pray, as Jesus did early in the morning. He wants more from us than merely caring for those who are ill, loving them and trying to help them just like he did, even if we cannot work miracles. He also wants us, having heard the saving words of the Gospel, to spread them, to bring this good news of salvation to others. He wants us to be under that same inner compulsion as St. Paul was, because if we’re not, then the reality is we don’t really appreciate ourselves what the Gospel is. We don’t really yet have faith.
  • Pope Paul VI brought this out in his beautiful 1975 exhortation on Evangelization. He wrote, “”It would be useful if every Christian and every evangelizer were to pray about the following thought: through God’s mercy, people can gain salvation in other ways besides our preaching the Gospel to them; but as for us, can we gain salvation, if through negligence, fear, shame – what St. Paul called ‘shrinking from the Gospel’ – or as a result of false ideas, we fail to preach it?” The preparatory document for this October’s Synod of Bishops in the Vatican on the New Evangelization built on Pope VI’s question, which it says: “allows us to go immediately to the heart of the subject-at-hand, namely, the absolute centrality of the task of evangelization for the Church today… [It] will allow us to ascertain the caliber of our faith, to determine our sense of “feeling” and “being” Christians and disciples of Jesus Christ, who are sent forth to proclaim him to the world, and of our being witnesses filled with the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 24:48ff; Acts 1:8) and called to make disciples of all nations (cf. Mt 28:19ff).” Do we feel St. Paul’s passion, “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel?”
  • So we need to ask, first: Why have we come here today? Jesus knows that we come here with our illnesses, needs and problems. He can cure us and he wants us to ask him with confidence to do so. But he doesn’t want these difficulties to distract us from an even more important gift he wants to give us today: his word.
  • What does Jesus want us to do with this word? Two-thousand years ago, Jesus left those who were seeking him in order to go to other villages to preach the Gospel of the kingdom. After his Ascension, he has changed his method of operation. He won’t leave you today to go to other neighborhoods or cities. Instead he will stay here and wants to send you to the other villages, like he did his first disciples. He does this not because he is lazy, but because he loves, and he realizes that the greatest gift he could give you is the vocation to share in his mission of the proclamation of the kingdom for the salvation of the world. This is why Jesus has come here today. Why have we?

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 JB 7:1-4, 6-7

Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?”
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.

Responsorial Psalm PS 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

R. (cf. 3a) Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.
R. Alleluia.
Praise the LORD, for he is good;
sing praise to our God, for he is gracious;
it is fitting to praise him.
The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;
the dispersed of Israel he gathers.
R. Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.
R. Alleluia.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He tells the number of the stars;
he calls each by name.
R. Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.
R. Alleluia.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
to his wisdom there is no limit.
The LORD sustains the lowly;
the wicked he casts to the ground.
R. Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2 1 COR 9:16-19, 22-23

Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!
If I do so willingly, I have a recompense,
but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.
What then is my recompense?
That, when I preach,
I offer the gospel free of charge
so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.
To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.

Alleluia MT 8:17

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Christ took away our infirmities
and bore our diseases.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.