Jesus Saving Message is Urgent and Universal

Jesus Saving Message is Urgent and Universal

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Epiphany

February 4, 2024

Jesus Saving Message is Urgent and Universal

Homily for Sunday, February 4, 2024
The Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany
Mark 1:29-39

One would think we would have made more progress by today, the Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany.  But here we are, just ten days from Ash Wednesday and Lent, and still in the lectionary, after five weeks of reading from St. Mark’s Gospel, we are only in chapter one.  We still are only in chapter one of St.Mark’s Gospel because the opening of his Gospel is so full, so action-packed,that to move through it any more quickly might leave us, the listeners,breathless.  Already in Mark chapter 1 John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, John baptized Jesus, the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, Jesus began his earthly ministry, he called his first disciples, he cast out his first demon, and in today’s lesson he performed his first healing miracle.  If there is one word that might best describe the opening of St. Mark’s Gospel, it might be “urgent.”  By his breathless, unrelenting pace, Mark conveys to us his listeners that Jesus’ message and mission are urgent.  In Jesus’ own words (from Mark chapter one):

“The time is fulfilled,the kingdom of God has come near;repent, and believe in the good news” (Mk 1:15).  

Jesus’ mission and message are urgent because – according to Mark (and we touched on this last week) – the world is filled with powers that seek to harm human health and well-being.  As Judea in Mark’s time was occupied by hostile forces (the Romans), so, too, are we be beset by hostile powers that corrupt and destroy.  For Mark, Jesus was the one who could heal and deliver us from these “spiritual forces of wickedness,” as our Baptismal liturgy puts it. And so in Mark at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus got right down to work, immediately and without delay.  

The Gospel lessons from last Sunday and also this morning set forth the scope of Jesus’ mission.  Last Sunday, in a synagogue Jesus cast out a demon from a man; this morning, in “the house of Simon and Andrew” Jesus healed a woman with a fever.  Jesus’ message and mission are for all, male and female; and Jesus brings healing both to society (out in public) and to individuals in families. Further, says Mark, there is no time in which Jesus’ message and mission are not needed.  Last Sunday’s exorcism and this morning’s healing take place during the day; but this morning’s Gospel also reports that, “That evening at sunset [at night] they brought to him all who were sick or possessed by demons… And he cured many… and cast out many demons.”  Jesus’ message and mission are so urgent that they are catholic (lower-case c); that is, they are for everyone, everywhere, all the time.  

In addition to telling us that Jesus’ urgent, saving message and mission is for all people, everywhere, all the time, Mark in this morning’s lesson tells us three important things about how Jesus carries out his ministry.  First, Jesus’ power touches us personally.  Notice in this morning’s lesson how Jesus “came and took [Simon’s mother-in-law] by the hand and lifted her up.” Jesus’ healing power that is for all people, everywhere, all the time literally has a personal touch in which Jesus draws near, stoops down, takes us by the hand and lifts us up.  The Greek behind “lifted her up” is literally “he raised her,” the same verb Mark uses to speak of Jesus’ resurrection (16:6).  At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Mark tells us that Jesus comes and meets us where we are, whether in our home or in society, and heals us, “raising us up”from the worldly powers that seek to corrupt and destroy; and he does so with a personal touch.  

Second, Jesus’ message and mission are rooted in prayer.  “In the morning,” Mark writes, “while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Jesus’ ministry is deeply rooted in his intimate relationship with the Father, whom he encountered regularly in prayer.  If we would serve Jesus in his mission, we,too, would do well to root our lives in prayer, to set aside time regularly if not daily to (in the words of the Pope)

…to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for them, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”  The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; [the Pope writes], whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.

Just as Jesus rooted his life in prayer, if we would serve Jesus in his mission, we, too, would do well to root our lives in prayer.

Lastly, everyone desires Jesus’ healing power.  After Jesus rose early and went out to a deserted place to pray, Mark reports that “Simon and his companions hunted for him.  When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’”  In their first spoken words of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples speak the truth: “Everyone is searching for you.”  Jesus has made us, and Jesus has made us to be in relationship with him so that (as St. Augustine prayed) “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Note, too, how Jesus went out to pray “while it was still very dark,”and that the disciples found him presumably as the sun rose.  Here, likewise, Mark draws our attention to the Resurrection, for Mark writes that it was “very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen,” that “they went to the tomb” (16:2) to search for Jesus.   At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, and then again at the end at the resurrection, everyone is searching for Jesus.  We search for him because we seek the one… who heals, who prays, who casts out evil, who takes us by the hand and raises us up because deep-down, whether we are aware of it or not, we want Jesus to touch our lives with power, too; and deep-down we know that “our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Today after our liturgy, we head into our Annual Meeting.  While on the one hand we might think of Annual Meeting as a dry 45-minute exercise in hearing reports and budgets and voting for the Vestry, what we actually do in this meeting is to carry on Jesus’ ministry begun in Mark.  The “nuts and bolts” of parish life, unglamorous though they may seem, are actually part of God’s work of restoring this world to God’s self, step by small step.  And just as Jesus in Mark’s Gospel met people where they were – in public, in private; be they male or female; at night or during the day – so does Jesus meet us where we make budgets, where we serve in committees, when we discuss buildings, and as we carry out our own mission work.  As we are faithful in that work – rooting our lives in prayer, recognizing that everyone is searching for Jesus, and like Simon’s mother-in-law letting Jesus enter and draw near and take us by the hand and raise us up – then Jesus will use us to carry out his mission here in Newton Centre.  And we will be disciples bearing witness that in Christ (in the words of the prayer we will pray before Annual Meeting)“things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made… Jesus Christ our Lord.”  

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