Pierre-Henry Buisson February 7, 2021
St Luke’s Prescott, AZ 5th Sunday after Epiphany
I don’t know how you reacted when you heard this Gospel. We are still at the very beginning of the Gospel according to Mark. For now, only a few things happened: Jesus was baptized (and in Mark’s Gospel it’s a couple of sentences), then he spent 40 days in the wilderness where Mark tells us that Jesus was tempted by Satan and that during all that time angels served him. Once again, in Mark’s Gospel, it is one sentence. Then it was the Gospel that we heard two weeks ago, where Jesus called the first four disciples. Then we had the first healing and now we are here in Capernaum where Jesus is going to preach for the first time in a synagogue on the Sabbath day.
And today our Gospel begins as soon as the service at the synagogue is over. Mark tells us that Jesus and his first four disciples went directly from the synagogue to Simon’s house. For me, it’s easy to imagine because I had the chance a long time ago to spend a week in Israel. I clearly remember the synagogue. You can see ruins and columns, and, not very far from there are the ruins of Peter’s house. At one time it was a church, probably the first church in Christianity. I remember that it’s so close that you just need a couple of minutes to go from the synagogue to Peter’s house. So a short walk on the Sabbath day.
The first thing that happened there was that Simon’s mother-in-law was sick. Is it a big deal? Yes, it is a big deal, because it is the first time in this Gospel that Jesus is going to heal someone. And the first time that he is going to heal a woman. If you remember what I just read, there is no sign, no long speech. As soon as Jesus learned that this woman was sick, he just came, took her hand, raised her up, and it was done. And she served them. So maybe some of you may have been offended by that, thinking “Wow once again the woman is serving the men!” It was another time in another culture. The interesting point is that the Greek word is not just about serving, it’s also ministering. This is the same word from which we have the word “deacon”. The thing that I like is that when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, Mark is using the same word to tell us that the angels served or ministered to him. Somehow Peter’s mom-in-law is doing the same work that the angels were doing in the wilderness. By being healed she was able to go back to her normal life.
We don’t know what happened between the healing in the morning and the evening. Mark doesn’t say anything. When evening came, precisely at sundown, the people of Capernaum came to see Jesus. Why at sundown down? Because when the first stars appeared in the sky, the Sabbath was officially over, so now people could go back to their normal life. Now they could visit this man that they had seen perform an exorcism in the synagogue. They were shocked, said Mark, by his preaching in the synagogue, because he was preaching with authority. And not only was he preaching with authority but he was performing an exorcism. So you can imagine how these people during the day were waiting to see Jesus. Not only did they want to see him, but they wanted to bring to him themselves or their loved ones who were suffering, people who were sick, people who were possessed. (At that time it was almost the same thing.)
So now we are here at the end of a long day. Jesus is overwhelmed by this crowd. At the time we think that Capernaum was home to 1,500 people. We can imagine this big crowd around Simon’s house who wanted to be healed, heard, by Jesus. It was the end of the day, the beginning of the night, and Jesus did what he came for. He started to heal people, he started to cast out demons. There is no preaching in that story, just actions. And eventually, when most of the people were healed or freed it was time for Jesus and the disciples to go back to their normal lives, to sleep.
The thing that surprises me about this Gospel is that we are overwhelmed by actions: Jesus did that, did that, did that. And when it was still night, Jesus woke up very early and went outside in a solitary place, and there he prayed. And I guess that most of us when we read this Gospel don’t pause there. He prayed and the following sentence is, “Peter and the disciples are searching for him.” We have to pause. Can you imagine that? Jesus, we know he is the Son of God, we know he has a special relationship with God with his father. He has spent all day and part of the night healing people, and he found the strength, the courage, the desire, to wake up early in the morning to isolate himself, to pray to his Father in the silence. I have no idea how long it took but I’m pretty sure that Peter and his friends only woke up when it was day, and they needed time to find Jesus.
Pause about that. Jesus was praying to his father. Jesus needed to have a long time of prayer to his father, or a long time to be in the presence of his father. Probably no words, just silence. But this is so important because it’s during this time of prayer that Jesus was in touch with his father. It is during these times of prayer that Jesus could be fed by his father and present to his father all the problems or thanksgiving for his life. His actions were possible because of the time that Jesus spent in prayer with his father.
I think this is so important for us today in our modern world where we are so caught up in things we have to do, one thing after another. I don’t know for you but I know for me sometimes, if I don’t make the decision at the beginning of the day that I’m going to start my day by praying, it’s almost evening and I didn’t have the time to stop in my day for prayer. Jesus took time to pray alone, in a secret place. I think for me today, especially in the midst of this pandemic season, I think this is an invitation for each one of us to find this time and this place, and pray to our Father in the secret of our hearts.
Mark didn’t say that Jesus took his Bible and his Book of Common Prayer to go in this place because they didn’t have books, he just went outside to pray. Sometimes we have so many questions about prayer, so many books have been written about prayer, that we think there are techniques and that if we follow that book, if we follow that rule, it will be okay. And we talk to God using our words or words of others. I think from time to time we just need to shut up and be silent in the presence of the Lord. For me, this is the image that I have when I think about this Gospel. I see Jesus in silence in the middle of nowhere kneeling and praying to his father. This is an invitation for us to find a way to have this kind of contemplative prayer, silent prayer.
I know it isn’t easy. I know that we have this tendency to always think, we want to talk, we want to listen too. But when we want to listen we would like to have images or words coming from God. However, when we pray in a face to face with God, there are no such things. We are in the silence, and this silence sometimes is so scary that we want to do something there. Let’s try to pray in the silence because it is in this silence that the Lord is molding our hearts and souls. It is in this silence that the Lord is speaking to our spirit, that the Lord is speaking to our soul, that the Lord is feeding our soul, and that the Lord is helping us to fulfill our mission. He gives us the strength to go into the world and to fulfill our mission. And our mission is to love God and to love our neighbor, and to serve God and to serve our neighbor.
In a couple of weeks, it’s going to be Lent. I know that many people when lent comes want to make decisions about what I am going to give up, and what I am going to add up on my shoulders, to please God, or to find a way to be closer to God. So I have an idea for you brothers and sisters. Maybe this year don’t think about giving up stuff, food, chocolate, sweets, social media. Rather this year just try to find a way to have silent times in the presence of the Lord. Just you and him, him and you. And if you are able to do that day after day, you are going to find out that the more you are able to spend silent time in the presence of the Lord, and the more you will have the desire to spend silent time in the presence of the lord. Don’t be scared by the silence! And please don’t start by saying “I am going to spend one hour in front of the Lord day after day,” because you are not going to be able to do it. Start by 5 minutes of silence, after a while maybe try 10 minutes, 15 minutes, once a day, twice a day, it’s up to you. But I can assure you one thing: if you are able to find the Lord in the solitude, in the silence, you are going to see a change in your spiritual life, and you are going to find new strength to go out into the world and to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ by actions and by words. Amen!