Sermon - 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Posted on the 7th Feb 2021 in the category Resources
On leaving the synagogue, Jesus went with James and John straight to the house of Simon and Andrew. Now Simon’s mother-in-law had gone to bed with fever, and they told him about her straightaway. He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up. And the fever left her and she began to wait on them.
That evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils. The whole town came crowding round the door, and he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another; he also cast out many devils, but he would not allow them to speak, because they knew who he was.
In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. Simon and his companions set out in search of him, and when they found him they said, ‘Everybody is looking for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.’ And he went all through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out devils.
Having passed Candlemas (the feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple) last week, the Church has now entered into a short period of preparation for the beginning of what the Orthodox call ‘the Great Lent’: the ‘big’ Lent, the big fast, in preparation for the Great Feast, Easter. And thus, on this rather quiet Sunday, while we all remain under tight restrictions waiting for the vaccine to work, and while so many worshippers are hesitant to attend public worship, or find that their local church is once again closed, the gospel reading somewhat ironically and quietly returns our attention to the reality of sickness and its effects on our lives, and to the first instance of Jesus’s power of healing.
This Sunday’s Gospel (Mk 1.29-39) powerfully presents Jesus to us as a healer, without any of the details that normally accompany such moments (special words, spittle and paste, even prayer). He simply takes a person’s hand. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and Jesus, taking her by the hand, helped her to her feet, and healed her. It certainly made enough of an impression that it aroused the gossip and interest of ‘the whole town’ (v.33), for that evening it seems all the sick in Capernaum were brought to him, whatever was troubling them in body, mind or spirit. He ‘healed many… and cast out many demons’. From this first miraculous moment in the earliest of the gospels, all four evangelists agree that liberation from illness and infirmity of every kind was the main feature of Jesus’ public activity, alongside his teaching.
In his world, as in ours, illness was a sign of the action of evil whether in individual lives, in families and neighbourhoods, or in the world at large. Who would challenge that as we see the forces of pain and fear, separation and loss, that have been unleashed in our lives by the pandemic we’re currently battling. In contrast, healing manifests the opposite: it reveals that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Jesus Christ came to pull evil up by the roots, and moments of healing always stand out in the gospel as a manifestation – a display – in individual lives of the triumph that his death and resurrection have brought to all lives.
A few verses on, in the next chapter, Jesus remarks ‘those who are healthy have no need of a doctor, but only those who are sick” (Mk 2.17). On that occasion he was stressing that it was sinners he came to call and save, not those who were sure of their own goodness. But the saying also reinforces what we all know: that when any of us is ill, we cease to be self-sufficient. We begin to know our need of others – their help, their presence, their consolation and encouragement. It is a typical and inescapable human experience, and one that, again, we are all experiencing at the moment whether or not we have succumbed to the virus. We know our need of others, and that others need us. Our minds and anxieties are filled with those whose illness and distress is endured alone, and the help we want to be able to give.
When, as happens often enough in the gospel, illness has become long and difficult, and a person’s suffering is prolonged, human beings become overwhelmed, and alienated from one another. In our present situation, again, we only need to fear becoming ill to experience for ourselves the depression and dehumanization that the virus, like many other conditions, is bringing to others.
So how should we react to such an evil? Well, first, with the appropriate science and treatment of course! Medical skills and therapies arise out of the same desire to alleviate the pain and separation that illness causes. Especially in emergency times like ours new responses are being developed at all times.
But the word of God teaches us that there is one crucial attitude that’s required of us in order for us to face illness and its wide-ranging effects on our own and others’ lives, and that of course is trusting faith in God, and in his oceanic mercy and goodness. Time and again in the gospels Jesus repeats ‘your faith has made you well’ (see Mk 5.34, 36). But faith in what? In the love of God. It is the relationship which God constantly seeks and requires for his wonders to be worked in our lives. This is the real answer which radically defeats evil. It was the relationship between Christ and his Father which defeated sin and death. ‘Just as Jesus confronted the Evil One with the power of the love that came to him from the Father’, says Pope Benedict, ‘so we too can confront and live through the trial of illness, keeping our heart immersed in God’s love.’
Many more of us have come close to the intense suffering and grief of others recently, or know those whose medical and nursing care is being called upon to a hitherto unknown degree. Among them we hear of those who were able to bear suffering because God gave them a deep serenity. As we celebrate this coming Thursday the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, that centre of God’s great promise of healing, let us all hold tight to the truth that it is Christ himself who has taught mankind – at one and the same time – both ‘to do good by his suffering and to do good to those who suffer. In this double aspect he has completely revealed the meaning of suffering.’ (St John Paul II, Salvifici doloris, 30).
May the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, help us live this mission to the full.
Thursday 11 February, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, is also this year’s World Day of the Sick: