Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sunday word, 08 Feb 2009

Fifth Sunday of the Year B (08 Feb 2009)
Jb 7.1-4,6-7; Ps 147; 1Co 9. 16-19,22-23-35; Mk 1. 29-39
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Fuel and Fire

Scripture; spirituality and service--our responses to scripture, which shape how we respond to Jesus--paint a large, living fresco in which we can see ourselves, find ourselves as well as deeper meaning for our lives. Today’s readings offer us that. I will begin with Jesus then return to him to end this homily.

From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus in Mark’s gospel healed. “We’ve heard that before, and we know that!” I can hear someone say. Yes, you have heard, and you know that. However, to attempt to heal--even for professional physicians of Jesus’ day--was risky business, and not for what we may think. Ancient Mediterranean, professional physicians did not attempt to heal people because if they failed, they could be put to death. ("Put to death" makes today’s malpractice suits seem tame.) Rather than attempt to heal, ancient physicians preferred to talk about illnesses, after the fashion of philosopher-healers./1/

People turned to folk-healers, who were willing to treat with means at their disposal. Learning that helped me appreciate more the way people sought Jesus. The healing people sought was greater than their cures because illness had social consequences, namely, separation from or even shunning by the community. Jesus, who addressed those in need of healing did not stop at curing; Jesus restored sick-marginalized people to their places, status and roles in society. That restoration exceeded curing illness and helped make people and society whole.

The effects of being sick-marginalized--I don’t know one word to describe it--were well expressed by Job, and we can identify with him. Illness of every sort leaves us listless so that the most routine task becomes drudgery. Time drags, and we feel it masters us rather than we it: a slave who longs for the shade and a hireling who waits for his wages illustrated what it feels like when time drags. We can quickly paint scenes from our restlessness when, like Job, happiness seems far away.

Consonant with our lives is the need for healing, of which scripture is full. Consonant with the gospel is how we dispose ourselves in our restlessness and in all our limitations. As witnesses to Jesus today we do not only see and seek his cures, which miss Jesus’ mission. We witnesses to Jesus today dispose ourselves to trust the words and ways of Jesus, especially when evidence mocks Jesus and his ways and tempts us to do the same.

The temptation is strong when things do not always unfold as we we’d like. That unfolding challenges us witnesses of Jesus. St. Paul reminded us that witnesses to Jesus today do not always give their testimony willingly. It isn’t always convenient. Yet, that is what stewardship entails: overcoming inertia and obstacles and moving forward. As parents, students, employees and employers, we know that from experience.

So it is with giving witness to Jesus. Witness, testimony, evangelizing begin with personal relationships with Jesus. Personal relationships with Jesus function like fuel and fire: they move us beyond ourselves, and they provide spark to our words and especially our deeds.

Peter’s mother-in-law embodied such fuel and fire. Her rising from bed echoed Jesus’ rising from death in this First Gospel; her waiting on Jesus and his disciples isn’t about subservience. She reclaimed her role in home and society, which is what Jesus healing her accomplished.

  • What sort of healing do we need?
  • Are we aware that we need healing?
  • Is our trust in Jesus strong and unshakable?
  • Do we turn to Jesus quickly in our weakness?

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, compose yourself in the Trinity. Bask in the light of our Triune God. Ask Peter’s mother-in-law to present you to Jesus to speak with him. Before you speak notice how you are feeling at the moment. Then tell Jesus how you want to trust him, and tell him what prevents you: am I lazy? Do I feel lost? Am I tempted?--and the like. Welcome Jesus into your weakness, and ask Jesus to touch your weakness and heal you to put it into perspective; to learn how you can use it in his service; and to know how your weakness draws you closer to him and to others. Close by saying slowing the Lords’ Prayer, which Jesus gave us to recognize more clearly how God’s life and love is more than sufficient each day.

1. John J. Pilch, “Social Healing.”
Wiki-images of Job and of Jesus healing Peter's mother-in-law are in the public domain.

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