Homily for Sunday, February 7th, 2021
The there are a few consistent realities that run through scripture. Of course, if you have eyes to see and ears to hear, you should be able to find images, or hints of God’s plan to reconcile his people unto him. In theological terms, we call that soteriology, which is a 25 cent word referring to “Salvation History.” Other imagery includes the facts that life includes the drudgery of hard work and even illness and pain.
In the book of Job we read the ultimate tale of drudgery and woe. His is a story that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Yet, God caused his case to flourish in the end.
The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1st Corinthians that the road before us is to become workers for the Lord, and that the we should be humble in that service.
Today’s Gospel reading is true to form. Suffering runs through the Gospel of this Sunday. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law and she immediately gets up and starts working. Next, the whole town had gathered at the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John, also seeking Jesus’ healing touch — more work to be done.
Jesus appears to never miss a beat. He seems to revel in doing the work of the Father, though there is no boasting. The miracles of the Gospels are signs of God’s loving attention to the sufferings of humanity, his approach to the heavy baggage of earthly life, like the hard work of the mercenary, as Job affirms in today’s first reading. Through the Son, a man like us, God penetrates the dark tangle of evil by placing a seed of salvation there, starting its transformation from darkness into light, from death into life.
Today’s reading in the first chapter of Mark presents us with Jesus’ divine entrance within the human experience and does so with what is traditionally called “the day of Capernaum”.
In fact, right on the first page of Mark‘a Gospel appears a sequence of acts of Jesus framed in the time span of a day and in the geographical space of the town of Capernaum which overlooks the northern coast of Lake Tiberias and which was the point of fundamental reference of the first phase of the preaching and public ministry of Jesus.
There are three scenes that today’s Gospel offers us within that “day.” The first is intimate and familiar and is the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, who was feverish and bed-ridden. In parentheses we must point out that the archaeological excavations, conducted in Capernaum especially by the Franciscan Fr. Virgilio Corbo, made it possible to isolate an area that most likely corresponded to the small space of the house of Peter, which soon became the seat of an ancient place of Christian worship, now incorporated into a modern sanctuary. Jesus in front of that woman does not utter any word or raise prayers, differently from what Paul will do in Malta in front of the father of the Roman official Publius, who was also affected by fever (Acts 28,8).
Jesus simply and silently approaches the patient, lifts her up taking her by the hand. It is precisely in the essentiality of the scene that the strength of Christ, his triumphant power over evil and natural law, appears in all its solemnity. But the story is ideally illuminated by the light of Easter through a small detail that the evangelist has left to fall into the story. In fact, the “rising” of the healed woman is in Greek the same verb (egheiren) that in the New Testament defines the resurrection of Christ. And the woman’s response is no longer a simple act of courtesy and gratitude: in fact, the Greek verb that indicates her “service” after her recovery is that of “diakonia”, that is, the critical service of the faithful.
The second scene, on the other hand, is set at the “door”, “after the sun has set.” Some commentaries suggest that this scene may have actually been located at the city gate, but, I’m not convinced. Wherever it took place, Jesus performs a series of mass healings (“various diseases, many demons”), a kind of emblematic fight against all forms of evil, physical and internal. It is not for nothing that the entire passage is marked by the adjective «all» or «a lot»: «They brought him all the sick … the whole city was in front of the door. He healed many, cast out many demons … Everyone is looking for you or … He went throughout the Galilee”. Faced with the force of pain and the demonic, Christ stands with all the grandeur of his mystery, whose outlines are not understandable to the spectators but whose saving efficacy is experimental and visible. In fact, in the story emerges the so-called “messianic secret” which will be revealed only in the light of Easter: “he did not allow the demons to speak because they knew him”.
Noticeably short and conclusive is the third scene, that of dawn. Jesus is wrapped in the silence of contemplation. But immediately after he is immersed in the embrace of the crowd, anxious to be freed from evil. The picture closes with an essential portrait of Jesus in his dual mission as herald of the Kingdom of God and as the Savior of humanity from evil. And the whirlwind saga continues. Jesus is, after all just beginning his salvific mission, and ministry.
FIRST READING: Job 7:1–4, 6–7
Job spoke, saying: 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.
SECOND READING: 1 Corinthians 9:16–19, 22–23
Brothers and sisters: If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my recompense? That, when I preach, I offer the gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. 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. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.
GOSPEL: Mark 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.
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