5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B – Feb. 4, 2024

 

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B – Feb. 4, 2024

Job 7: 1-4, 6-7; 1 Corinthians 9: 16-19, 22-23; Mark 1: 29-39

 

Theme: Preaching, Healing, Exorcism, and Prayer

Today’s Gospel picks up where we left off last Sunday. Jesus and his four disciples left the synagogue and went to Peter’s house where these new disciples experienced the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and many other people who were ill and possessed by demons. Note that these new disciples are in a training formation to become the “fishers of men”, the apostles of Jesus. We too who started a new relationship with the Emmanuel, God-with-us, last Christmas are in a training formation during this Ordinary time (34 Sundays), learning what discipleship entails. Thus, today’s Bible readings teach us that as Jesus’ followers, our ministry is the ministry of preaching, healing, exorcising, and prayer (Gospel). To follow Jesus means that all our lives must be dedicated to evangelizing the people of God, healing their physical and spiritual illnesses, exorcising them, and being constantly united with our God in prayer, especially when we go through suffering like that of Job in our first reading. This ministry is so urgent that we cannot waste time as Saint Paul also expresses in our second reading.

 The episode of today’s Gospel took place in the house of Peter and Andrew. Upon Jesus entering their house, they immediately told him about the sickness of Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus healed her by touching her hand. As an expression of gratitude to Jesus who healed her, this mother-in-law started to serve Jesus and his disciples (vv. 29-31). Notice the three steps of this healing. First, they told Jesus about their problem (the sickness of Peter’s mother-in-law), then Jesus touched her and healed her, and finally, the mother-in-law started to serve them. These three steps occur when we experience Jesus’ healing in the sacraments, particularly in the Eucharist and confession. At Confession, for example, we start by telling Jesus about our sins which are the sicknesses of our souls. Then, Jesus touches us through the laying on of the hands of the priest and heals our souls by absorbing our sins. Finally, as a sign of our gratitude to Jesus, we are called to serve him through our Church and our brothers and sisters.  Likewise in the Eucharistic celebration, the first step is when we tell Jesus about our problems at the beginning of the Mass before the opening prayer called “Colette”. When the priest says, “Let us pray”, he gives a moment of silence so that each one of us speak with God and tell him about the topics of our encounter with him that day. Then the priest will “Colette” all our topics and bring them to God. This is the significance of the opening prayer at the beginning of the Mass. The second step is that Jesus will touch our hearts and heal us through his Word that we hear in the Scripture readings and his Body and Blood that we receive in the Holy Communion. The third step is that we are sent at the end of the Mass to go and serve the Lord as an expression of our gratitude to God.

After the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus healed many other people who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. The narrator tells us that the whole town was gathered at the door of the house of Peter and John (vv. 32-34). It is interesting to notice that the house of Peter and John became the central place where many people came to meet with Jesus and get healed. On Christmas, we offered Jesus our hearts and families to be born in. Therefore, let us make our families and our lives the places where the people find Jesus and get healed of their problems. This is possible when we always renew and strengthen our relationships with our Lord in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and confession.

Mark tells us that Jesus went off to a deserted place to pray early in the morning before dawn (v. 35). Next to healing, preaching, and exorcism, this part of the Gospel highlights prayer as another characteristic of Jesus’ ministry. Why did Jesus need to pray to God? In November of last year, I preached a three-day retreat to the Holy Family Sisters here in New Orleans. In one of my conferences, I meditated with them on the passage where Jesus says that we “are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5: 13-16). One of the reflections was this: Oil stands for our prayer life. The lamp that gives light amid darkness represents all of us Christians who are called to minister to the people and live out our faith amid all the trials that we go through daily. So, the more the lamp gives light, the more the oil dries up. In the context of today’s Gospel, we can say that the more Jesus ministered to the people the whole day, the more he needed to strengthen his relationship with God, his Father through prayer. He sets an example for us his followers. The more we live out our faith and minister to our Church and our brothers and sisters amid the sufferings that we face daily, the more our prayer life dries up. Hence, we need to reinforce it by using the sacraments, mostly the Eucharist and Confession which are the summits of all prayers. The Eucharistic celebration and confession renew and strengthen our relationship with God and give us new energy to continue ministering to God’s people.

The narrator of our Gospel reports to us that the disciples pursued Jesus and informed him that many people were still coming to look for him. Surprisingly, Jesus told them that they should rather go elsewhere in the nearby villages to minister to the people there also because, he says, for this purpose that he has come. The reading concludes with a mention that Jesus went into the synagogues throughout the whole of Galilee, preaching and driving out demons there (vv. 36-39). This last part of the Gospel emphasizes the urgency and universalism of Jesus’ ministry. The people in Capernaum need more of Jesus’s evangelization but there is no time to waste since many people elsewhere throughout the whole of Galilee need Jesus’s ministry as well. This is what Saint Paul expresses in our second reading. He considers preaching the Word of God not as an option for him to preach or not preach. It is rather an “obligation” divinely imposed on him (1 Corinthians 9: 16). He says that he offers the Gospel free of charge which makes him serve his people freely without being hindered or distracted by financial obligations. Here Paul shows the urgency for him to preach the Gospel.

Nowadays, there is an urgency to bring the Word of God everywhere, especially to the people who experience significant suffering forcing them to think like Job in our first reading. Let us try to understand the general context of the book of Job to better comprehend our passage. When you have time, I recommend you read at least the prologue: Job 1: 1-22, 2: 1-13, and the epilogue: Job 42: 7-17. The author of this book composed poetical dialogues on the topic of suffering, but he did not offer a clear solution. He attempts to answer the question: if God is loving, then why does evil exist? The three friends of Job: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, tried to destroy Job’s faith in God by telling him that his sufferings are the punishment from God because of his sins. Job’s first response is what we heard in our first reading. Job here takes up the concept of the passing of time. He describes life as a “drudgery,” composed of “months of misery” and nights that drag on. This passage describes Job as a person who is in complete despair yet refuses to reject God. When we go through this experience of suffering, this reading encourages us to not despair but to turn to God who has the power to heal us through the medical providers and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession.

The liturgy of this Mass reminds us that we are Jesus’ disciples of our time. Therefore, our ministry consists of evangelizing the people of God, healing their physical and spiritual illnesses, exorcising them, and being constantly united with our God in prayer, especially when we go through suffering like that of Job in our first reading. This ministry is so urgent that we cannot waste time as Paul expresses in our second reading. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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