The Purpose for which Jesus the High Priest has Come, 1st Wednesday (I), January 11, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time, Year I
January 11, 2017
Heb 2:14-18, Ps 105, Mk 1:29-39

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in this homily: 

  • Throughout these initial days of Ordinary Time, the Church, through the Letter to the Hebrews and the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel, has us set our proper spiritual coordinates for the year so that we can focus on who Jesus is, what work he seeks to do in us in the ordinary time of daily life, and how we’re called to respond. Yesterday in the Letter to the Hebrews, we pondered how Jesus who is the Father’s definitive Word, the one exalted above the angels, the one through whom all things were made, was made “for a little while” lower than the angels, he suffered death so that he might “taste death for everyone” and in “bringing many children to glory,” would make “their salvation perfect through suffering.” Among the message Jesus came to incarnate and proclaim is the message about the role of suffering in his plans of salvation and what suffering prophesies, death. Jesus suffered and died in order to lead us through suffering and death to salvation.
  • Suffering and death, we remember, were not part of God’s plan for us in the beginning but are the consequences of sin, which introduced a disharmony in our relationship with God, in our relationship with others, and in our relationship within us, causing a fissure, in a sense, between our immaterial immortal soul and our body, a fissure that reaches its culmination in death. But suffering and death weren’t meant by God to be simple punishments; they were meant to be medicine for the sin that leads to both. They were meant to be for us what the serpent lifted up in the desert was for snake bitten Jews (Num 21:9): a reminder to us of what ails us and at the same time a medicine. Suffering and death were meant to be a remedy for the sins that ail us and part of our healing. Suffering, as St. John Paul II wrote in his beautiful document Salvifici Doloris, is meant to “unleash love” in the human person. Suffering forces proud men and women to allow others to care for us, to give others a chance to love us, to force us when we’re ill out of our supposed self-sufficiency. Suffering in others also forces us and others out of our egocentrism and gives us the choice to become hardened like the priest and the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan or rather to become like the Samaritan who draws near to care for and love someone in need. Likewise death is meant to be medicinal. There’s no greater reminder to us that we’re not God than death. It’s a clarion wake-up call to us that we need God.
  • In today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, we see how Jesus, God’s definitive word, came to communicate to us God’s message about suffering and death in God’s salvific plans. It describes how Jesus shared, except sin, in all things human, including our suffering and death, so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil” and “free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” The Letter goes on to say, “Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” Jesus knows our sufferings. Jesus knows our death. Jesus is “like his brothers and sisters in every way.” And that’s why he can be “a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people.” I want to ponder especially the Letter’s words about Jesus’ freeing those who through fear of death had been enslaved all their life. The greatest slavery is fear and the greatest fear is of suffering and of death. Our fears of suffering and death all have to do with our hatred of pain. We’re all staurophobic, meaning we all have a fear of the Cross. Yet in order to be saved, we need to pick up our Cross every day to follow Jesus. Jesus’ entering our world, picking up his Cross, suffering, dying and then rising triumphantly three days later is so that he can take away the sting of death, take away our fear and lead us through the dark valley of suffering and death with his rod and his staff to the eternal verdant pastures (Ps 23). Many of us would prefer that Jesus simply take away our suffering and death, but if he did that, he would be taking away the spiritual medicine we need. He never promises to take away suffering and death, but what he does promise is to be with us always until the end of time, to suffer with us. We have a supremely com-passionate and sym-pathetic high priest, someone who literally “suffers with” us, as these Latin and Greek words respectively signify. He became human to suffer with us and for us and to lead us through this bitter medicine to full and eternal health.
  • For many of us, just like for many of Jesus’ original contemporaries, however, this is not at first glance a message of good news. We prefer to be freed of suffering and death rather than just accompanied. We need help to be able to grasp that our sufferings and our death ought not to be as fearsome as we naturally think. That’s one of the reasons why Jesus worked so many hearings and even a few resuscitations in the Gospel. He wanted to give us signs that God has come into the world precisely to heal us and raise us from what kills us, but he wanted to do so not merely for what wounds and kills us in this world but forever. So his miracles of physical healing and resuscitation are meant to be signs of that greater healing he will do of the entire person forever precisely through helping us to enter into his suffering and death. We see these lessons in today’s Gospel.
  • Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law as soon as he and the first disciples returned from the Synagogue and then at nightfall, as soon as the Sabbath was over and people could move about, they brought all the sick and possessed to Jesus, so much so that St. Mark tells us “the whole town was gathered at the door,” and Jesus cured them all one-by-one. It would have been exhausting work. But he healed them to give a foretaste of the resurrection when all our illnesses will be healed and all demons and temptations will have been cast out. Each of us knows that we have a little taste of salvation every time we’re cured of a really bad fever, or severe back pain, or a terrible headache or liberated from a serious temptation. Jesus by these healing and exorcising miracles was giving us a little downpayment of the joy that awaits at the Resurrection. But he wasn’t taking all illnesses away. He was using them in order to give a glimpse of his glory and showing us a small image of what he hopes to do eternally. Jesus didn’t heal everyone in Palestine. He didn’t take away all pain and suffering. But he committed himself to show us through that suffering the path to perfection with him.
  • But there’s an even greater witness in today’s Gospel of how Jesus carries out that mission of salvation and healing. He arose “very early before dawn,” and went out to pray in a deserted place. He mustn’t have slept very long after having healed for hours after sunset the night before. But he went out to pray, because, as he would say later, some demons, some illnesses are expunged only by prayer and fasting. The worst illnesses and sufferings of all, the sins that lead to “second death,” are what most need prayer and fasting. And that’s why Jesus always prayed, leaving us an example of the importance of our prayer, for ourselves for others. And when the first disciples eventually found him, saying, “Everyone is looking for you,” Jesus pointed out something even more important. He didn’t stay where everyone was coming to him like a traveling free physician, but said, “Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose I have come.” Jesus had come to preach. He had come as that Word summarizing all God wanted to communicated. He had come to bring to us the medicine he knows we most need and that medicine is his truth. That’s what we need most in order to follow him through suffering and death to glory. Do we grasp this? We need the medicine of Jesus’ truth, of his preaching, more than a person with cancer needs chemotherapy, more than someone with pneumonia needs antibiotics, more than someone with a splitting headache needs an aspirin. And so do others. Do we regularly seek out this healing of our ignorance and bring this same medicine to others? I think about all those, like my dad, who have pill boxes every day with the various types of medicine they’re doctors have prescribed for them. They religiously take it every day. But do we approach the medicine of Jesus’ preaching the truth in the same regular way? Do we get to know the Gospels? Do we hear Jesus’ words preaching through the Church in the pope, the bishops, the priests, the deacons Christ has ordained and sent out to teach all nations? This revelation, this preaching, is a medicine our souls very much need, because our fears of suffering and death often grow because of our ignorance of what God himself has revealed. We’re ignorant of the power of Jesus’ words in various circumstances, “Be not afraid!” We’re oblivious to the consolations God has already given us for our pains, because for many of us Sacred Scripture remains a pharmacy we seldom enter. Jesus today reminds us that he has come to preach. He first wants us to hunger for that divine remedy, but then he wants us to become his nurses taking this medicine to nearby villages. To preach the Gospel is the purpose why he has come. To preach the Gospel is likewise the purpose we’re alive and Catholic.
  • As we prepare now to receive Jesus the Divine Physician in Holy Communion, as we prepare to receive what St. Ignatius of Antioch at the beginning of the second century called the medicine of immortality, we thank him for visiting us with his preaching in the Gospel and with himself in the Word made flesh and we ask him for the grace, so healed by him, to use our health like St. Peter’s healed mother-in-law in the Gospel to wait on him and become a servant of all.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 HEB 2:14-18

Since the children share in blood and Flesh,
Jesus likewise shared in them,
that through death he might destroy the one
who has the power of death, that is, the Devil,
and free those who through fear of death
had been subject to slavery all their life.
Surely he did not help angels
but rather the descendants of Abraham;
therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way,
that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God
to expiate the sins of the people.
Because he himself was tested through what he suffered,
he is able to help those who are being tested.

Responsorial Psalm PS 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9

R. (8a) The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Give thanks to the LORD, invoke his name;
make known among the nations his deeds.
Sing to him, sing his praise,
proclaim all his wondrous deeds.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Glory in his holy name;
rejoice, O hearts that seek the LORD!
Look to the LORD in his strength;
seek to serve him constantly.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
or:
R. Alleluia.
You descendants of Abraham, his servants,
sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
He, the LORD, is our God;
throughout the earth his judgments prevail.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
or:
R. Alleluia.
He remembers forever his covenant
which he made binding for a thousand generations—
Which he entered into with Abraham
and by his oath to Isaac.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia JN 10:27

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord.
I know them, and they follow me.
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.