5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 8, 2015 – Year B
Readings: Jb 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147; 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39
by Rev. Richard Mooney
This entire stretch of time between the end of Christmas and the beginning of Lent, we are spending in the first chapter of the gospel of Mark. In that first chapter, we are being introduced to Jesus. One way to get a lot out of it is to read the chapter as if you had never heard these stories before. When you do that, you are more likely to get a sense of the challenge that is built into these stories.
Today is a really good example. Two things happen that are deeply challenging for us today. Last week, Jesus introduced himself, as it were, by going to the local synagogue in Capernaum, a little town on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and basically preaching and casting out demons, which was strange behavior for a landless peasant. So people are going, “Who is he?” Then he kind of doubles down on that by exorcising a demon, so people are kind of like, “What have we got here?”
Today, we follow Jesus immediately from the synagogue into Simon Peter’s house where his mother-in-law is ill. Jesus goes over, heals her of her illness, and then she makes them lunch. Ladies, yes, I know, you’re sitting there thinking, “Peter and his friends couldn’t have made themselves a sandwich?” The truth is that you have a point. The other point is that healing is for service. Healing, in our lives, however it comes to us, is to outfit us to be of service to others.
I have bumped into a whole lot of people who have gone through some serious illness or really bad patch, come out the other side, and then their attitude was, “OK, great! That’s over! I can get back to playing golf or taking that next cruise.” Golf is good. Cruises are good. Healing is for service. Healing is to make ourselves fit to be helpful and useful to others.
Then the whole town comes to Jesus and he spends a great deal of time healing and expelling demons. The next morning he gets up and he leaves. He goes to a quiet place to pray, but people, in a kind of semi-panic, track him down. Everyone is looking for him. Why?
Well, you gotta picture it. In their world, if a little nowhere village like Capernaum had living in it a bona-fide, serious, really hard-core healer and exorcist, everybody else in the village has visions of sugar-plums dancing in their heads, basically. Oh, please stay here, we’ll see to you, give you a house to live in, take care of your needs. People can come to us. People can travel to you. The entrepreneurial spirit. People will come to us and they’ll have to travel. They’ll need places to stay and food to eat. They’ll need people to manage the lines and do a little triage and prioritize. If a little money changes hands so you can get a little further up in the line, that’s just the cost of doing business.
Jesus will have none of that. His healing is free, and you don’t go to him. He comes to you. That is pretty radical stuff for back then.
Jesus will not be tied down. He will not be managed. He will not be handled. He will not be packaged. He will not be marketed. Jesus takes his healing out and gives it away for free. At least from my point of view, having pastored parishes and campus ministries for over 35 years, that is a serious challenge because although it’s necessary in the light of how Jesus thinks of his own mission, the most dangerous thing that any Christian community can do is to build a building. Important, necessary… dangerous.
Because once you’ve built the building, somehow or other, everything becomes about the building. I deal with men all the time in my different prisons and I told them this week, “The one thing you have as an advantage over everyone else on the outside is that you don’t have to worry about the building. You don’t have to worry whether the roof leaks or paying the bill.” When you build a building and move into it, something happens to your sense of mission and ministry. It tends to become more inward than outward.
Has anyone here ever been a part of a community that was organized but had not yet built a building? Weren’t those exciting times? I was pastor over at St. Thomas More. People still talk about the early days – “St. Whitten’s.” Whittens is a funeral home over on Timberlake Road where we gathered. We gathered at funeral homes and high school gymnasiums. People came early to set up and and stayed late to take things down. They got to know each other. They began to create this community of people who had a mission – something to do.
When I was first ordained, I was assigned to a parish in Virginia Beach. Five miles down the road, a new parish was forming. It was not going to be a wealthy parish. It took them a long time to gather the funds to build a building. I used to help out some Sundays and I was overwhelmed by the sheer energy of these people as they came in to whatever place they had rented for the weekend to set things up. There were just thousands of things going on all over the place. People were looking each other up and meeting each other and introducing themselves. There was this huge sense of outwardness and mission. And then they built the building.
Within one week after dedicating the building, one hundred households came to register, all of whom lived inside the parish boundaries, some of whom lived within eyesight of the building site. They’d watched this thing going up, and then they waited until it was finished, and then joined. Why go to the Wal-Mart 15 minutes away when you can go to the new Wal-Mart that’s only 5 minutes away? It’s all the same Wal-Mart, right? Well, maybe that’s what people think. Something happens when we build a building that turns things inward. It becomes less about mission and more about maintenance. That’s the great danger. We lose that sense of outwardness, of giving it away for free.
One of my teachers in seminary said, “We build these beautiful aquariums and then we wait for the fish to jump in.” That’s not how it works. We’re sent out to bring it out into the world, to be the healing for free that Jesus brings.
Buildings are necessary. Buildings are nice. But I know pastors who have worked themselves near to death to keep that sense of mission going.
You’ve heard of all these percentages. The 1 percent. The 99 percent. The 47 percent. Let me give you one more. The 13 percent. Every time they do a study, it comes up the same. In most Catholic parishes, 13% of the registered members do 95% of the work of keeping that parish going and being part of a larger mission and ministry. That’s what Jesus is challenging today. He won’t allow himself to be tacked down. He won’t allow himself to be put in a box and sold to you. Jesus is about freedom and healing, and that’s our challenge today, too – for all of us to continually renew that sense of the kingdom of God that Jesus came to reveal in his teachings and in his healing and freeing people from all that binds them. That kingdom of God that he lived for, that he died for, that he and we – we hope – will rise into.