Sunday, February 4, 2018
The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and the proclamation of the Reign of God in Galilee Meeting with Jesus, the merciful Healer Mark 1:29-39
1. Opening prayer
Lord, it is not herbs or emollients that can cure the wounds and diseases of our souls, but Your Word, which sustains everything, creates everything anew every day. Come, stretch forth Your strong hand over us so that, held by You, we may let ourselves be raised and begin to be Your disciples, Your servants. Jesus, You are the Gate of the sheep, the Gate that opens onto heaven; to You we come with all that we are and all that we have in our hearts. Take us with You, in silence, into the flowering desert of Your company and there teach us to pray with Your voice, Your word, so that we too may become heralds of the Kingdom. Send now Your Spirit upon us in abundance so that we may listen to You with all our hearts and minds. Amen.
a) Placing the passage in its context:
Continuing from the preceding verses (21-28), this passage describes the conclusion of a typical day with Jesus. He is in Capernaum, on a Sabbath, and after taking part in the liturgy in the synagogue, Jesus continues the celebration in Peter’s house, in an intimate atmosphere.
When sunset comes and after a rest, Jesus continues His ministry going throughout Galilee. The Gospel presents me with three sequences that are historical and lets me know what Jesus did in Capernaum, but also reveals the great mystery of the salvation by Christ that upsets my life. These events may help to fix my attention on the journey Jesus took: from the synagogue to the house, to the desert and to all the villages in Galilee. The Evangelist also emphasizes the passing of time, the coming of the night, that is, sunset, and then the morning still immersed in darkness.
b) Some assistance in the reading of this passage:
vv. 29-31: Jesus enters Peter’s house and accepts the disciples’ request. He cures Peter’s mother-in-law, who is lying in bed with a fever.
vv.32-34: After the Sabbath, Jesus heals many sick and possessed persons who are brought to Him.
vv.35-39: Jesus wakes up before dawn and goes to pray in a solitary place, but many people follow Him and finally find Him.
He leads them to a wider ministry that embraces the whole of Galilee.
c) The text:
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.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
I enter into the silence that Jesus has prepared for me with His deep healing action, with His prayer that overcomes the night. Thus, I dispose my being to seek Jesus ceaselessly and to follow Him wherever He takes me.
4. Some questions
that may help my spiritual ears to listen more deeply and the eyes of my heart to contemplate until I meet Jesus gaze.
a) Jesus leaves the synagogue to enter Peter’s house, which becomes the brilliant center of His saving action. I try to follow Jesus’ journey: He enters the most intimate part of the house, namely, the bedroom. I reflect, seeking and looking for the "way" that is within me, house of God. Do I allow Jesus to go into the deepest part of me, even to my heart? I observe and note Jesus’ gestures. Quickly He goes in, He approaches, takes the hand, raises. These are terms typical of the resurrection. Do I hear the Lord saying to me, too, "Arise, get up, be born again!"? I note the insistence on darkness: sunset, still dark. Why? What does this mean? What other terms can I relate to these expressions? All came crowding at Jesus’ door. Am I among them? Jesus’ word resonates in my heart: "Knock and it shall be opened to you". I try to imagine the scene. I lift my arm and knock at Jesus’ door. He opens. What shall I say to Him? And how will He answer me? They knew Him. I ask myself concerning my relationship with the Lord, “Do I really know Him? Or do I just go on hearsay, as Job says?” I look at myself and ask Jesus to help me with this relationship of discovery, of closeness, of communion and sharing with Him. I try to remember some verses that may help me: "Lord, make me know Your ways"; "Show me Your face". Jesus prays in a desert place. Am I afraid to go with Him into that prayer through the night that precedes the light? Am I afraid of moments of silence, alone with Him? And went off to a lonely place and prayed there. He was praying. This tells me of a calm, long and deep action. Would I rather run away and not wish to stop? Set out in search of Him ...... in Jesus’ footsteps. This is a beautiful expression, which reminds me of the manuscript of St. Therese of the Child Jesus where she says that the shining footsteps of Jesus are spread throughout the pages of the Gospel. I reflect. Have I ever committed myself to following these footsteps, sometimes well defined, at other times almost imperceptible? Do I know how to recognize them, even along the paths of time and of the history of each day, mine and that of others? Is there a special trace of Jesus, an indelible imprint that He has left on the earth of my heart, of my life?
b) I pause on the last verses and note the verbs of motion, of action: "Let us go elsewhere, so that I can proclaim the message there too, because that is why I came.” And He went preaching. I know that I too am called to go and proclaim love and salvation in Jesus. Am I ready, with the grace and strength that come from this Word that I have pondered, to take on now a concrete, clear, even small commitment to proclaiming and evangelizing? To whom shall I go? What steps do I wish to take?
5. A key to the reading
I can take various paths in order to go deeper into the text, paths that can help me enter more into dialogue with the Lord and to listen to His Word.
- The passage from the synagogue to the Church
The synagogue is the mother, but the Church is the spouse. Jesus, who is the Spouse, reveals her to us and makes us know the beauty and splendor that radiates from her for us. If we try to follow Him, in the Gospels, we realize that Jesus leads us on a journey of salvation from the synagogue to the Church. Mark, as well as Luke, insists much on the bond that Jesus quickly establishes with the synagogue, which becomes the privileged and sacred place of His revelation and the place for teaching. I read, for instance, Mk 1:21 and Mk 6:2, or Lk 4:16 and 6:6 and also Jn 6:59. During His passion Jesus will say before Pilate that He has always taught openly in the synagogue and in the temple (Jn 18:20). It is also the place of healing where Jesus reveals Himself as a powerful healer, who heals and saves: see, for instance, Mk 1:23 and 3:1. This double action of Jesus becomes the bridge over which one goes to the new house of God, house of prayer for all peoples, that is, the Church: a house with open doors so that no one need stay outside. We are all invited to enter, with Jesus, into this place of reconciliation, communion and salvation. Christ loves the Church (Eph 5:25), because He is her Head (Eph 1:22; 5:23), has acquired her with His own blood (Acts 20:28) and does not cease to nourish and take care of her (Eph 5:29). She is the spiritual edifice made of living stones, that is, we ourselves, as we read in St. Peter (1Pt 2:4 ff). However, life gushes out of us like water from the rock if we abandon ourselves to the Lord (Eph 5:24) as a reciprocal gift of love and trust, if we persevere in constant prayer and for all (Acts 12:5) and if we share in the passion of the Lord for humankind (Col 1:24). The Church is the pillar and the support of truth (1 Tim 3:15). It is beautiful to walk in her, united with Christ the Lord.
As the etymology of the Greek word itself says, fever is like a fire that flares inside us and consumes us negatively, attacking our inner and spiritual energies, rendering us incapable of doing good. In Psalm 31, for instance, we find a very eloquent expression that may well describe the action of the fever of sin in us: "My heart grew parched, a stubble in summer drought. At last I admitted to You I had sinned " (Ps 31:4ff). The only way to get well is what we saw in the Gospel, that is, by confession, by placing our evil before the Lord (Wis 16:16). In Deuteronomy also fever is expressed as a consequence of being far away from God, of the hardness of heart that will not listen to His voice and follow His ways (Dt 28:15,22; 32:24).
This Gospel passage, like many others, allows us to meet Jesus, who, as true healer and true medicine, comes to us to touch our worst wounds, our worst illnesses and heal them, a healing that is always salvation. He is the Samaritan who, throughout our life’s journey, sees us with certainty and a keen and loving gaze and does not go by but approaches us, bends over us, bandages our wounds and pours into them the good medicine that comes from His heart. There are so many episodes in the Gospels that tell us of healing brought about by Jesus. Limiting myself to Mark’s Gospel I can quote Mk 2:1-12; 3:1-6; 5:25-34; 6:54-56; 7:24-30; 7:31-37; 8:22-26; 10:46-52. Reflecting on these passages and appreciating their deeper meaning can help me absorb better Jesus’ characteristics, He who heals, and thus I, too, by listening deeply to His Word, may be healed in my inner self and in my whole being. For instance, I may dwell on the verbs or the particular gestures of Jesus that are repeated in many of these stories and thus more and more bring to light the words He pronounces. I realize that it is not so much the gestures of Jesus that bring about the healing, but His word: "Get up and walk; go in peace; go; go, your faith has saved you." He rarely uses specific gestures that draw attention and confuse. The following are some of these: "taking him by the hand; taking him aside; he laid; He laid His hand". These stories echo the words of the Psalm that says, "sending his word and curing them" (Ps 106:20). Jesus is the Lord, He who heals, as the book of Exodus proclaimed (Ex 15:26), and He is that because He Himself has taken on Himself our infirmity, our sins. He is the wounded healer who heals us with His wounds (cf. 1 Pt 2:24-25).
- The night, darkness transformed by the light of Jesus
The theme of the night, of darkness, runs through a good part of Scripture, from the very first verses when light appears as the first manifestation of the force of the love of God who creates and saves. Light follows darkness, day follows night, and in parallel the Bible tells us that the interior darkness, which can invade humankind, is followed by the new light of salvation and of meeting with God, of the embrace of that brilliant gaze that enraptures. "To you, night would be as light as day" says Psalm 138:12 and it is true, because the Lord is light itself. "Yahweh is my light and my salvation,” says Psalm 26:1. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says of Himself that He is the light of the world (Jn 9:5), to tell us that whoever follows Him does not walk in darkness; indeed, it is He who, as Word of God, becomes light to our steps in this world (Ps 118:105). Darkness is often associated with the shadow of death, that is to say that spiritual darkness is the same as death. Read Psalm 87:7; 106:10,14. The Lord’s strong arm defeats darkness; it seizes us in its clutches and frees us, splitting the chains that oppress us. "Let there be light" is an eternal word that God ceaselessly pronounces and that reaches every human being in every situation.
"Stay with us Lord. It is already night." (Lk 24:9) is the prayer of the two from Emmaus, but it is also the prayer of us all. The words of the bride in the Canticle resonate on our lips, "Before the shadows flee, return! Be, my beloved (Song 2:17).
St. Paul helps us run a very strong interior journey that brings us close to Christ and that saves us from sin. He invites us, "The night is almost over; it will be daylight soon. Let us give up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light.” (Rom 13:12). "You are all sons of the light and sons of the day; we do not belong to the night or to darkness.” (1 Thess 5:5). In many ways, the Word invites us to be children of the light and brings us into the light of the divine Sun, who is Jesus, the East, to be enlightened and transfigured. The more we give ourselves to the light of Christ, the more will the word of the Apocalypse be true for us, "It will never be night again and they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them. They will reign forever and ever." (Rev 22:5).
6. A moment of prayer: Psalm 29
Thanksgiving hymn for liberation from a great trial.
Refrain: Into Your hands, Lord, I commend my life.
I will extol thee, O Lord,
for Thou hast drawn me up,
and hast not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to Thee for help,
and Thou hast healed me.
O Lord, Thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints,
and give thanks to His holy name.
For His anger is but for a moment,
and His favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
As for me, I said in my prosperity,
"I shall never be moved."
By thy favor, O Lord,
thou hadst established me as a strong mountain;
Thou didst hide Thy face, I was dismayed.
To Thee, O Lord,
I cried; and to the Lord I made supplication:
"What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise Thee?
Will it tell of Thy faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
O Lord, be Thou my helper!"
Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing;
Thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,
that my soul may praise Thee and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to Thee for ever.
7. Closing prayer
Lord, I want to praise You, bless and thank You with all my heart for this Your Word, written for me, today, proclaimed by Your Love for me, because You truly love me. Thank You, because You came, You came down, You came into my house and have touched the place where I was not well, where I burned with a terrible fever. You touched me when I was far away and alone. And You seized me. You took me by the hand and made me get up, restoring me to that full and true life that comes from You, that I live close to You. Hence I am now happy, my Lord.
Thank You because You have bypassed my darkness, because You have defeated night with Your powerful, solitary and loving prayer. You have shone Your light in me, in my eyes, and now I, too, see anew and am enlightened from within. I pray with You and I grow, precisely because I pray with You. Lord, thank You because You urge me on towards the other, towards new worlds, new ways, outside the door of my house. I am not of the world, I know, but I am and remain in the world to continue loving it and to evangelize it. Lord, Your Word can make the world a truly beautiful place. Thank You, Lord. Amen.