Jesus’ Highest Priorities, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), February 8, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
February 8, 2015
Job 7:1-4.6-7, Ps 147, 1 Cor 9:16-19.22-23, Mk 1:29-39

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided the homily: 

Jesus’ Healing Work and What It Points To

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 misery and troubled nights.” 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. “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?,” he asked aloud. His nights were “filled with restlessness” and his days seemed to be coming “to an end without hope” and he believed he would “not see happiness again.” God would soon come to his aid, for as we sang in the Psalm, God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

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 ill or possessed by demons.” St. Mark tells us that the “whole town 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 so that he could establish a personal relationship with each grateful recipient and hopefully bring them from a physical cure to a far more important spiritual one. It was probably close to midnight by the time he finished. He arose the next morning, “very early before dawn,” 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 looking for you.” Without question the hordes had brought many other of the sick and the possessed from surrounding regions to Jesus and were hoping for a sequel for what they had witnessed the night before.

“Everyone is looking for you.” We might have expected that Jesus’ response would have been one of jubilation. 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 told that everyone was looking for him, didn’t respond by saying, “Hallelujah!” He didn’t rejoice like storeowners on Black Friday seeing the mobs outside their soon-to-be-opened front door. Rather he said, much to their surprise, “Let us go on to the nearby villages, so that I may preach there also; for this purpose I have come.” Jesus had come to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. He probably realized in prayer that morning how urgent the task was for him to accomplish the mission the Father had given him. He probably grasped as well that the people were coming 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 a powerful exorcist and an unbelievably effective and shockingly free physician. 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 throughout 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: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” (Jn 6:26). They were looking more for a baker giving out a free meal than a savior! Jesus again showed what his real priorities were when friends brought to him a paralyzed man and lowered him into his presence from a roof. They obviously wanted Jesus to cure their friend and help him walk again. But when Jesus saw the faith of the friends, he 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. It was only to silence those were criticizing him for pretending to be God who alone can forgive sins that Jesus, to show his authority, healed the man’s paralysis.

Jesus worked all of his miracles, not because he had come down from heaven to earth to found an emergency room, 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. And his proclamation of the Kingdom was meant to help us learn what we needed to do to enter into that kingdom not for a visit but forever. Pope Francis said in a July 2013 homily, “When Jesus healed a sick man he was not only a healer. When he taught people … he was not only a catechist, a preacher of morals. When he remonstrated against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees, he was not a revolutionary who wanted to drive out the Romans. No, these things that Jesus did, healing, teaching and speaking out against hypocrisy, were only a sign of something greater that Jesus was doing: he was forgiving sins.” Reconciling the world in Christ in the name of the Father, Pope Francis continued, “this is Jesus’ mission. Everything else — healing, teaching, reprimands — are only signs of that deeper miracle which is the re-creation of the world. Thus reconciliation is the re-creation of the world; and the most profound mission of Jesus is the redemption of all of us sinners.”

Jesus’ Priorities versus Ours

Today all of us have come here to St. Bernadette’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 and to proclaim it in such a way that it won’t fall on deaf ears, that it won’t be ignored, but embraced, followed and lived with joy. He wants us to respond to his proclamation of the kingdom with the same type of life-changing faith that we see in Mary and the apostles. That’s his priority.

Many of us, let’s be honest, might believe that Jesus has his priorities mixed up. After all, imagine how full this Church would be if Jesus, through me, or through Fr. Nick, or through one of the parishioners were working tremendous miracles of healing. We could depopulate St. Anne’s and Charlton Hospitals 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 attention. 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 human instruments, might be brought to conversion. But that’s not the way Jesus chooses to do it. Instead, he fundamentally sends priests ordained in his person to preach the Gospel of the kingdom. From Jesus’ own divine perspective, the greatest gift he can give any of us, whether we’re ill and suffering or healthy, is his holy 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.

The Priority of Preaching

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,” imitating Jesus’ prayer and his proclamation in today’s Gospel. Since they no longer had the time for other good works of charity, which are too essential to be neglected, 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 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 and dangerous pathways on foot and on seas, great sufferings, rejection, imprisonment and eventually martyrdom. 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 just to pray, as Jesus did very early in the morning. He wants more from us than merely to care for those who are ill, loving them and trying to help them according to our capacities just like Jesus did according to his. 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 than 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.

Jesus’ as the purpose for Jesus’ coming was to proclaim the kingdom, so St. Paul’s great passion was to spread the faith. Do we feel the apostle’s inner desperation that led him to say, “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel?” Is that the great yearning of our life? Pope Francis is trying to help it to become the yearning for every Christian. Three weeks ago I quoted from what he wrote in his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” but it bears repeating until every one of us feels impelled like him, like St. Paul, like Jesus to share the faith. Pope Francis said, “If we have received the love that restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others? …What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?” He said that we Christians are “convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize.” Because we are convinced of the incredible difference Jesus makes, we must evangelize, we must go to those who haven’t yet heard or embrace this proclamation of the kingdom and propose it to them, we must feel that inner woe, that interior sense that we’re going to explode, unless we share the faith. That’s what impelled St. Paul to “become all things to all, to save at least some.” He did this — making himself “a slave to all to win over as many as possible: — for the “sake of the Gospel, so that I, too, may have a share in it.” He grasped that if he wasn’t sharing the faith, he wouldn’t really have a share in the Gospel. If we’ve really grasped what the Gospel is, we can’t keep it to ourselves. And if we’re not sharing it, then we are not living it.

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. And that leads us to the second question: 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 us today to go to other neighborhoods or cities. Instead he will stay here and wants to sent us to the other villages, like he did his first disciples. He does this not so that he can have a well-earned eternal vacation, but because he loves us, and he realizes that the greatest gift he could give any of us 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?

Going to Other Places to Proclaim the Gospel

These reflections frame what will be happening to me in three weeks. Any time a pastor receives a transfer, it is an occasion for him to enter into Jesus’ own experience in today’s Gospel when he said he needed to go to the nearby villages to preach there, too. Stability is the exception; the rule is moving to proclaim the faith. Whenever a priest arrives, it’s inevitable that he will move on, either to another parish, or to retirement, or to his judgment, or, as in my case, to an assignment I would never have imagined. When a transfer like this happens, there are always at least some who, like the people of Capernaum, don’t want you to leave. When a transfer like this happens, the priest himself doesn’t always want to leave. But there is a higher order involved. There’s a need to bring the Gospel elsewhere. Jesus didn’t stay in Capernaum, or Bethsaida, or Nazareth, or Jerusalem. Paul didn’t stay in Ephesus, or Corinth, or Galatia, or Thessalonika. And I can’t stay in Fall River. In God’s mysterious plan, I am being sent to the biggest metropolis in our land to be a witness to the Gospel before the representatives of all the countries of the world. I never thought, as I’ve joked with some of you, that when Jesus said, “Go and teach to all nations” that in his mercy he would give me a chance to do so all in the same place, but he has. I will miss you, just like I’m sure Jesus missed the people of the towns that received him and Paul missed the communities he established. It’s never easy to leave. But as much as a priest would love to stay to continue building up a Church, there is at the same time an inner desire, even a compelling woe, to try to share the Gospel with other people as well, in the hope that they, too, might come to experience that life with Jesus is just not the same as life without, but so much better. I have enjoyed the opportunity I’ve had here with you over the last 31 months to share some of the fire within, the passion God’s given me to communicate the good news Jesus himself enunciates and enfleshes, his words of eternal life, his truth that sets us free. Every assignment a priest has changes him, as he seeks, with St. Paul, to become all things to all people, to save as many as he can.” While the priest proclaims the Gospel, he also learns quite a bit from the ways people have interiorized it, and so I thank all of you who by lives of deep faith have announced the Gospel to me and shown me the compelling witness that, with Pope Francis, you have experienced that it’s not the same thing to live with Jesus as to live without him. I rejoice together with you that Jesus lives with us here and our prayer is that he will continue to grow in the lives of everyone who comes to encounter him here. While I will be moving on, Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Eternal High Priest, will not leave you orphans (Jn 14:18). He will send another shepherd to take my place so that Jesus’ mission of proclaiming the Gospel with its power to save will continue here unabated. He will send another priest to continue to do what we’re about to do, which is the source and summit of the Christian life, the most important thing that ever happens in the world, the joy of the priesthood: the loving sacramental communion with God to which the faithful proclamation of the Word of God always leads us.

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.
or:
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.
or:
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.
or:
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.
or:
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.