5th Sunday in Ordinary Time “B” – Fr. Rick Sherman
Jb 7:1-4, 6-7; Ps 147:1–6; 1 Cor 9:16-23; Mk 1:29-39
February 7, 2021
As I was reading and meditating over the Scriptures this week, the line that most strongly jumped out and spoke to me was “Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” This ‘escape’ to a deserted place came the morning after a day of healing and driving out demons. The day had begun with the dramatic healing of Simon’s mother-in-law who had been very ill with a fever. Then later in the day after sunset, in the words of the gospel, “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.”
It’s interesting that they brought ALL the sick and possessed, but He cured MANY who were ill and drove out MANY demons. They brought ALL, but He cured MANY. So why didn’t Jesus just cure them ALL while He was at it? Throughout the gospels we hear Jesus telling the beneficiaries of His miracles that their faith has saved them. This implies that there is a sort of cooperation and participation with Jesus on the part of the person cured.
The miracles are not Jesus doing a magic act where He just hovers above the people like a fairy and waves His magic wand. Jesus is truly among the people having a very personal encounter with them. It’s no doubt exhausting to respond to the very severe needs of so many people. Recall that even though Jesus is God, He is also fully human. He gets tired. Jesus needs a certain kind of time and space to reenergize and regenerate the spiritual life that has been expended in His healing ministries. Recall also that Jesus spends so much of His time teaching. Probably most often to people who are hearing His Wisdom for the first time. Quite likely it does not make perfect sense to many of them. This too takes tremendous energy to teach those who are at a very early stage of learning. Ask any teacher. And then, there are likely some who are really not that interested in learning at all, but are just there for the spectacle or because they are just tagging along with others.
There is no synergy or symbiosis among the tag-alongs. No genuine receptivity. This is also why Jesus tells the people to not say anything to others. He does not want to be the magician that people chase around for some magic. Jesus came for a personal encounter where a response is needed to fully appreciate what Jesus offers them. Ultimately, Jesus will be sending the disciples out to do the same type of healing and teaching. They too will become exhausted.
So Jesus goes off to a deserted place where there are very few distractions in order to more fully encounter His Father in heaven. He can feel the very power of the Father in the great expanse of the desert, the mountains, the sea and the lake. The power of the Creator Father is very much in His Creation. It is in His capacity to be totally open to the love and will of the Father that enables Jesus to then transfer and bestow that power on to others.
It is also in this undistracted quiet space with God that Jesus stays connected with the fullness of reality. Recall that it was after they had sinned that Adam and Eve’s ‘eyes were opened’, but to the constricted and spiritually bereft vision of a wounded and fallen human nature. They went from seeing the world like God does in its original harmony and where they saw each other ‘naked without shame’… until sin. As a result, we all remain trapped in this human imposed, constricted space and eventually believe that this is normal. We approach life with an inherently fatalistic world view, much like Job in the first reading today:
“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.”
Who has not had a day or week or month or even a year or two like this in our lives? We seem to get swallowed up in our own misery and helplessness. After all we ARE human and this IS planet earth, so we do not escape suffering, but we do not have to stay in this pit of despair forever. Consider for a moment the contrast between Job and St. Paul in his letter today to the Corinthians. Job sees himself as “a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling waits for his wages.” Life is a drudgery. Paul on the other hand declares, “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.” Since his conversion, since tapping into the wider space of God’s reality, his perspective on everything has changed. Like Christ, he too strives for a genuine encounter with the people in whatever their condition: “To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” Like Jesus, he reaches ‘some’, but not all. There needs to be a willingness and a response on the part of each person. The people must yearn for the larger reality of God’s space and plan. Paul further declares that, “All this I do for the sake of the gospel so that I too may have a share in it”. While he already experiences the new ‘God space’ he knows that the real goal is heaven and yearns for the fullness of God’s glory.
The ‘deserted’ space that Jesus seeks out awaits all of us where we can actually reacquaint ourselves with the REAL world that God has intended for us. Like Jesus, we must seek it out… and do so on a regular basis. We need to be rejuvenated and regenerated to live freely, but also to do the work that God has called us to do. ALL of us. When we are baptized, and further strengthened and commissioned by God working through the sacraments, we are sent all out to teach and share this larger vision of transcended life with others.
I know that almost everyone in the church today lives in Kane County or is visiting here for exactly that reason; to be in the great expanse of God’s Creation. It’s easy to feel the rejuvenating power of the desert and canyons and mountains. But we also need something more: the personal presence of Jesus. This coming week we will begin offering an hour of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament each Thursday afternoon from 4 to 5 PM. Come for the whole hour or for a few minutes and feel the power that comes from silent prayer with others before the living and real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Bring your Bible and finish reading the whole Gospel of Mark. We can then take this new Presence with us back into a world that seems to be so trapped in the constricted visions of Adam and Eve and Job…