“Everybody is looking for you” (Mk 1:29-39):
Being busy – restless or engaged?
The contemporary culture forces us to be busy. The more you are urbanized, the more you are likely to be busy. We keep inventing machines to save time, and yet we keep complaining all the time: there is no time! Whether our time is spent productively or not, we are simply busy. We are busy checking emails. We are busy talking on the phone. We are busy twittering. When we are not busy, actually we are busy planning how to be busy. Are you a busy person? How do you feel about your busy-ness? Do you feel restless? Or, do you feel engaged?
The gospel passage of today describes the busy schedule of Jesus as his public ministry gathers momentum. The story picks up from where we left him in the gospel text of last Sunday – it was a Sabbath and Jesus was in a synagogue where “he taught them with authority” and cured a man possessed by an unclean spirit. So here is what follows: Jesus leaves the synagogue; enters Peter’s house, cures Simon’s mother-in-law; has a meal there (implied in Mk 1:31: that she served them). Then in the evening he is busy engaging with those who were sick and those who were possessed, and the whole town that came to him. This must have happened after sunset, because it was a Sabbath day. It is not clear at what time he went to bed, but he did go to bed. But “long before dawn, he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” Simon and his companions go in search of him, when they find him Jesus decides to move on to other towns. Busy? He was indeed. Restless? It doesn’t seem so!
In the First Reading of today we hear the lamentations of Job. Poor guy! He is restless. It is not just the loss of his wealth, the loss of his friends and family, not even the sickness that has afflicted him, but his inner condition that really pains him. The reading of today describes his inner turmoil. Job mourns: “Lying in bed I wonder, ‘When will it be day?’ Risen I think, ‘How slowly evening comes?’ (Job 7:4). The words of Job seem to suggest that he actually has all the time in the world. The sands of time seem to run so slow. Yet, internally he is restless. Job continues to lament: “Restlessly I fret till twilight falls. Swifter than a weaver’s shuttle my days have passed, and vanished, leaving no hope behind” (Job 7:6).
So are you a busy person? Your busy-ness in itself may not be a problem, but it is your restlessness that you will have to be careful about. That restlessness can deprive us of meaning and hope: “Swifter than a weaver’s shuttle my days have passed, and vanished, leaving no hope behind” (Job 7:6).
So how can we give meaning to our busy-ness? How does Jesus handle his busy schedule – even in the gospel story of today? Jesus is busy, alright. But he does not create a picture of being restless, but engaged. What do I mean? I find three important aspects that provide meaning and gratification to what Jesus is busy with.
1. He is engaged in enhancing the life of people around
Evidence from several research projects in contemporary psychology suggests that happiness (that is, gratification) and life-satisfaction are highly correlated to being engaged in the lives of other people. Even, sense of purpose is seen as being engaged with something larger than oneself. For those engaged in altruistic activity time passes swiftly, bringing much satisfaction and hope. It provides the reason for them to wake up every morning.
This is what Jesus is busy with. He is busy enhancing the lives of people around him. This becomes the sign of the messianic times. This is how he assures in the Kingdom of God. This is the Good News (Mk 1:14).
In some professions, work itself might involve direct interaction with people more than others. But, maybe you are working in a garage turning nuts of cars eight hours a day! May be you are busy with numbers in your accounting department? May be you are on a driving wheel most of your working hours? But are there not people at the receiving end of most of these activities? Besides the ‘clients’, there is perhaps your family and dear ones. And on another level: there may be a possibility to enjoy special gratification in voluntary work. Ultimately, there is no substitute for quality, physical time spent with people – friends and family. They provide meaning to our busy-ness.
2. Seeking popularity or inner gratification?
The first point was about the external purpose of my being busy, but the second aspect is about internal motivation. Why do I do what I do the whole day? One motivation could be that we want to be recognized, to be praised, and to be acclaimed. We want to become popular. But for Jesus, popularity was not on his agenda. In fact, the gospel text of today tells us after all that he did by way of curing people and casting out devils, “he would not allow them to speak…” (Mk 1:34). On several occasions in the Gospel of Mark Jesus tells the people he cures not to speak about it. Scripture scholars have called this: “Messianic Secrecy” – something that is very peculiar to the Gospel of Mark (see also Mk 1:43-45; Mk 8:29-30; Mk 4:1). There are several possible reasons for this. One reason could be that Jesus’ miracles and glorious events during his public ministry (like the transfiguration) should not be separated from his passion, death and resurrection. But in the light of the theme that we are developing here, we could also say that Jesus did not want a ‘celebrity cult’ around him.
Our own being busy could be led by extrinsic motivation – applause from others. And when we don’t get that praise and honour, we get easily discouraged. When we are lucky to get the applause, sometimes adrenalin gets into our system, and then we want more of it. We fight for it. We over-work. And sadly, we might even get consumed by it. On the other hand, if we do what we do out of an intrinsic motivation – that I simply enjoy doing it – then we keep working. We might become busy, but we know where to draw the line. We are detached from the external fruits of the work. We are able to time off! We are free.
3. Taking the Me-Time with God
And this is the third aspect that we see in the busy-ness of Jesus. “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” Jesus spends quality me-time with God. It is time to relive his Abba-experience (Mk 1:11).
We too need this me-time with God. It is time to re-energize our batteries. Actually, that time of silence and prayer is also a time to enjoy the inner fruits of our work. It is time to purify our intentions. It is time to remind ourselves why we do what we do. Yes, it is for our family, for people around us. But it is actually even more than that.
In the Second Reading of today, St Paul tells us why he is busy preaching the Good News: “I do not boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty which has been laid on me” (1Cor 9:16). He preaches not for praise of others, not for any pay, but the reward is internal – it is “to have a share in the blessings of the gospel” (1Cor 9:23). That is it.
Yes, we are busy doing what we do for the glory of God. To allow the life of God to flow in us! When there is the higher motivation of the glory of God, everything falls in place. We are no more restless. We are engaged – with others and God!
There are four episodes in today’s Gospel. With last week’s passage, they form a “day in the life of Christ.” A lot happens on this day. Jesus is very busy— God is very busy. And it is a Sabbath, a day when humans rest, but God keeps extending gracious kindness to the needy creatures God has made. The scene takes place in Capernaum; we are not in Jerusalem. Because there was only one place for sacrificial worship, the temple in Jerusalem, most of the people were denied regular access to such worship. Instead they attended synagogues, which were places in the towns for instruction and prayer.
Jesus has just left the synagogue where he has driven an unclean spirit from a man and enters the house of Simon and Andrew. One of the criticisms of homilies is that they contain too many ideas. A passage that contains four episodes might result in a preaching that suffers from excess. So, to help focus the preaching, I have decided to preach from the first episode in today’s narrative, the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law.
Notice how succinctly Mark tells the story: Jesus was told about the woman’s condition; he went over to her, “grasped her hand and helped her up and the fever left her. She immediately began to wait on them.” Mark uses rich New Testament expressions to describe the cure, though they sound ordinary on first hearing. Jesus “helped her up” – this is the same expression in the New Testament that is often used in the resurrection stories. Mark is implying that this person is being given a new life, a life that only the risen Jesus can give.
What does this new life look like? Well, we are told when she was healed, the woman “began to wait on them.” It sounds like she is doing household chores, “woman’s work,” but the word Mark uses is “diakoneo,” the word for “church work,” or Christian ministry. Thus, Mark is implying that she “waits” on the community and does the work of the community. When people experience new life from Jesus, they are willing and able to serve others. What one receives one wants to share. The mother-in-law is quick in her response; her “work” isn’t taken on grudgingly. The best ministers among us do their work with a sense of joy that seems to come from their own experience of Jesus “raising them up.” In fact, believers who do “deaconal” work say they get more out of what they do than they put into it. It is as if, in the midst of their ministry to others, Jesus is taking them by their hand and “raising them up.” There is no easy answer to Job’s problems. He is the innocent sufferer. There is no “solution” to the mystery of suffering. But we do hear today’s gospel showing Jesus’ power over suffering. We know that unlike the fictitious and innocent Job, Jesus is very real, the sinless one who takes on our suffering; who suffers so others can be set free. This is the truth to be engaged and celebrated in our liturgy today. What Jesus did for Simon’s mother-in-law he does for us, individually and as a community? He extends a hand to us, raising us up from sin and death to a new life. His new life gives us the power to see the needs of others and respond with energy and joy.
Daily Prayer Is an Essential Ingredient in the Life of Every Christian.
Jesus Christ was God-become-man in order to enable the fallen human race to find its way back to God.
• His human nature was infused with the power of his divine person.
• We see this, for example, in his miraculous cure of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, and in his many other miracles and casting out of demons.
• Jesus was true man, but his humanity was perfect, sinless, without any tendencies to selfishness, laziness, or pride.
• His character was balanced and flawless, firm as the mountains and gentle as a mother’s caress.
• His mind was beyond brilliant, filled with the radiance of divine light and understanding.
• He had no emotional scars from a difficult family upbringing (Mary was without sin too, and Joseph was a saint), no personality disorders or imbalanced self-esteem – no lacks, no wounds, no imperfections at all.
And yet, in spite of all that, over and over again in the Gospels we see him go off to be alone in prayer, just as he did in today’s Gospel passage.
• Christ was perfect, God from God and light from light, and yet he still needed to reserve time just to be alone with his Father.
• He needed to go off and pray.
• He even had to get up early to make time for it.
• Sometimes he had to stay up late in order to make time for it.
• But he always did it, even on the very eve of his crucifixion, in the Garden of Gethsemane.
If he, who was perfect, needed prayer in order to fulfill his life’s mission, what does that imply for us, who are so imperfect, so weak, so vulnerable to every sort of temptation and wounded by every kind of sin?
If disciplined, daily prayer was essential for Christ, it must be even more essential for Christ’s less-than-perfect followers.
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.