Sunday, February 4, 2018

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

Maybe I’m just projecting,
but I get a sense of weariness from Jesus
in today’s Gospel.
After saying (with perhaps a touch of hyperbole)
that “the whole town was gathered at the door”
Mark tells us that Jesus
“cured many who were sick”
and “drove out many demons,”
and then, the next day,
“rising very early before dawn,
he left; and went off to a deserted place,
where he prayed.”
Waking to find Jesus gone,
the disciples are said
not simply to go looking for him,
but to “pursue” him,
as if he were fleeing from them;
and maybe he was.
To touch so much human pain
must be draining, wearying, exhausting.
Yet when they find him and tell him
(again, with maybe a bit of hyperbole)
“everyone is looking for you,”
he does not plead weariness or exhaustion,
but steps back into the fray,
saying “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”

For this purpose have I come…
this is who I am…
this is the meaning of my existence:
to spend myself and hold nothing back
for the sake of the Good News.
In Jesus, the saving power of God
does not work at a distance,
pressing a button on the cosmic remote control,
but rather steps into the midst of our suffering,
into the mess that is the human condition,
becoming one with us
in every situation of human pain:
those whose lives are wracked with sickness,
those who struggle with dark spiritual forces,
those who are rejected and outcast,
those whose lives seems hopeless and without meaning.
For this purpose have I come…
to touch your place of pain,
to heal and transform and console,
to cast out your demons
and fill you with my Spirit,
to step into your darkness
and be your light.
This is who I am,
God’s saving Word made flesh.

And we who have felt this touch
are in turn called to join him in his ministry
of stepping into the dark places of human suffering.
St. Paul knew this,
writing to the Corinthians,
“I have become all things to all, to save at least some.”
As a follower of Jesus,
there is nothing that any human being suffers
that I can push away from me,
saying this has nothing to do with me.
If I truly claim Jesus as Lord,
then I, like Paul, must become all things to all,
because Jesus became one like us in all things but sin.

And in becoming one with us,
Jesus does not distinguish between
the deserving and the undeserving.
As Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans,
“God proves his love for us in that
while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
Jesus does not ask
whether we are responsible for our own suffering,
whether we are worthy of his healing and forgiveness,
whether we are one of the deserving poor
or the good, hard-working kind of foreigner
before he enters into our suffering.

And neither should we ask,
if we wish to be his followers
and share in his ministry of reconciliation.
As God in Christ became one with us in our suffering,
regardless of whether or not we were deserving,
so too are we called to join in solidarity
with all those who suffer around us,
regardless of their deserving or not deserving:
with the lovable, but also with the unlovable;
with the blameless, but also with the blameworthy;
with the victim, but also with the criminal.

We cannot, of course, suspend all moral judgment—
we should not cease distinguishing right from wrong
or recognizing injustice where it is present.
But we should not, cannot, let such judgement
put anyone beyond the scope of our compassion
or prevent us from seeing in them
a beloved child of God.
It is for this purpose
that Jesus came
and it is for this purpose
that he has called us to be his followers,
to “become all things to all, to save at least some.”

Of course, it is an overwhelming task
to enter into the pain and suffering of the world,
particularly when it is the pain and suffering
of those who seem to us
unworthy of our compassion.
We, like Jesus,
may wish to sneak out before the sun is up
just to escape the incessant, exhausting demands
of those who suffer.
But the love of God
that has taken flesh in Jesus
is never exhausted.
In Jesus, the power of God to save and heal
is present without measure:
present to us in Word and Sacrament,
in prayer and community.
If we can sink our roots down deep
into the saving love of Jesus
then the torrent of the world’s pain
will not sweep us away.
If we let ourselves receive his healing touch
then we too will have strength
to stretch out our own hand
to touch the world’s pain.
It is for this purpose that he came,
and it is for this purpose that he has called us.
May God grant us this day
the grace to know his healing touch
and to extend that touch to all we meet.