Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
There are some themes that cannot be avoided, at least not entirely, and still do justice to Mark’s rendering of the Gospel of Jesus. One is that Jesus is tremendously popular. Last week, after Jesus healed the man with a demon in the synagogue, “… at once His fame began to spread throughout the surrounding area of Galilee.” Today, before sunrise, even, Jesus’ disciples began searching for him and, when they found him, they interrupt his prayer to say, “Everyone is waiting for you.” Jesus is quickly, after the healings of the preceding day, becoming a celebrity. And why not?! He heals, casts out demons, instantly halts a fever in its tracks…this is big stuff! But, for Jesus, popularity is not important. Going back to the previous day’s successes and adoring fans is not his purpose. “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.” And it may be tempting to ask, in fact we should ask, what message is that, anyway, Jesus? It has to do with Jesus’ call to all of us, through His healing, into transformed life; to become His disciples.
Jesus and his fan base. All three of the synoptic Gospels discuss the fact that Jesus’ popularity began to increase from the beginning of His ministry. Last week, Mark tells us that Christ’s fame spread after he cast the demon out of the man in the synagogue. In today’s Gospel, he has healed scores of people the night before and you better believe that word must be getting out. So, when his disciples interrupt his prayer before dawn to say, “Everyone is looking for you,” they could mean multitudes have come for healing, after hearing what Jesus did the day and night before. He had had a very busy day, indeed!
By the time Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that donkey one Palm Sunday, there might have been thousands of people waiting for Him. Those who had heard, over the last three years (Israel was and still is a tiny country) about this man called Jesus, were coming to see Him, maybe touch Him, and possibly make Him king. But before the week is out, they will be calling for his death! He has gone from celebrity to notoriety and soon he will be forgotten by the mass of people who supported and believed in his miracles and healings just a short time before.
So, Jesus understands that the nature of his healings, miracles, and teachings are attention-getting. But Jesus does not heal the broken and proclaim the good news for its own sake and certainly not for fame or power. It is the nature of God in Christ to heal us, to connect with us…to touch us. That is what Jesus came to do, to heal us with His loving sacrifice and projection. But Jesus is anxious to move beyond mere healing and to transform with the message, “I came into this world to save us and proclaim the good news that God is present, God loves us, and will expend even His own blood to win our freedom. Jesus’ death and resurrection, as did His life, proclaim God’s salvation and heal us from all that would keep us in bondage. Jesus does not care about attention and celebrity. Jesus desires for us to be healed by Him in such a way that we are transformed forever into disciples; not just a day, but for our lifetime and beyond. Listen to the Collect for this week:
Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ … Jesus wants to heal us of our sins, of our anger, prejudice, fear…to break our bonds so that we are healed to follow Him and, in following, to make disciples, too.
I have mentioned a book, by Jesuit Gregory Boyle more than once, called Tattoos on the Heart. And it tells of Fr. Boyle’s work amongst current and former gang members in East Los Angeles. Initially, Boyle’s aim seemed to be simply to help the young men, and some women to whom he was ministering in the Latino/Latina barrios, escape the life of gangs, crime, and poverty to which they were enslaved. He lived among them, walked among them, conducted their funeral when they were shot and killed, and attended the families. Later, he started Homeboy Industries, employing former gang members in t-shirt screening, at first. But later it became delis, cafes, etc. and its companion, Homegirl, Inc. The ministry provided laser removal of gang tattoos, if desired, counseling and treatment for addictions and trauma, and job training, leadership training and opportunities, and a system of accountability for their work and conduct, with a lot of love from Greg Boyle.
And what I was thinking about this week, I have read the book three times, is that Fr. Boyle was not only providing a pathway out for these young men and women but he was offering the healing of Christ Jesus himself. Not all the young people Boyle ministered to made it. As of the writing of his first book, he had buried around 167 young people, most dying by violence. But the “freedom from the bondage of sin” that the gang-life engendered, an alternative to the cyclical poverty that most face in East LA., was an invitation to healing. And many were healed, in Jesus name, by a man who is not a saint, yet, not perfect and these young people have had the opportunity to be healers to others in their communities, families, and around the world.
You see, we don’t have to be perfect to be healers. Jesus chose 12 wounded men to carry his message of love and transformation through death and resurrection to the world. Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest and author, wrote a book in 1972 called The Wounded Healer. And the whole premise of this book is this: Christ Jesus became wounded, one who suffered, in order to heal us. And the other point is that we, who are all wounded and who have all suffered, can offer the healing Light and transformative love of Jesus because we know what suffering is. We actually have the power to offer Jesus’ brand of healing, from sin, anger, aloneness, addiction, and violence because we have experienced those things.
Jesus did not come to cast out demons or to heal people from their physical maladies. He did, because he could not resist helping those that he came into contact with, because He loved them, as He loves us. But Jesus came, above all else, to free us from the bondage of our spiritual suffering; to set us free from the pain of the distance we have placed between God and us. Jesus was wounded for us, and through His wounds, we are healed. My brother and sisters, let us proclaim the message to the world that Jesus loved us so much that He became us and broke the bonds of our wounded lives. The message of Jesus is one of healing and transformed life for those who believe, and for those with the courage to take the healing love of Jesus to the hurting of our lives and the world.