HOMILY FOR 5TH SUNDAY: ORDINARY TIME YEAR B
THEME: The reality of suffering
BY: Fr. Jude Chijioke
Job 7: 1-4.6-7; 1 Corinthians 9, 16-19.22-23; Mark 1: 29-39
“Jesus came out of the synagogue and went immediately to the house of Simon and Andrew, in the company of James and John. Simone’s mother-in-law was in bed with fever and they immediately told him about her. He went up to her and lifted her up taking her by the hand; the fever left her, and she began to serve them. When evening came, after sunset, they brought him all the sick and possessed. The whole city was gathered in front of the door. He healed many who were afflicted with various diseases and cast out many demons; but he did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning he got up when it was still dark and, leaving the house, he withdrew into a long desert and prayed there. But Simon and those who were with him set out on his trail and, finding him, said to him: “Everyone is looking for you!” He said to them: Let us go elsewhere to the neighboring villages, so that I may preach there too; for this I have come! And he went throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons “(Mk 1).
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The reality of suffering runs through the Gospel of this Sunday liturgy with its mysterious thread. It is an ambiguous reality, similar to a ground on which the poisonous grass of despair takes root but on which the flower of trust can also blossom. The French poet Charles Péguy wrote: “It is to hope that is difficult / in a low and shameful voice. I And the easy thing is to despair / and it is the great temptation”. Naturally, the Gospel reads the mystery of pain in the light of Easter, wrapping it almost in the light of hope. Superb in this regard was already the prayerful declaration of the psalmist: “You have kept an account of my wanderings; you have kept a record of my tears; are they not written in your book?” (Ps 56, 9). Man’s tears do not fall into the dust of the earth but are written in the “book of life” of God who keeps them in his heart just as the Bedouin keeps water in his skin, the principle itself of its survival in the desert, in practice its treasure.
The miracles of the Gospels are signs of God’s loving attention to the sufferings of humanity, his approach to the heavy baggage of earthly life, like the hard work of the mercenary, as Job affirms in today’s first reading. Through the Son, a man like us, God penetrates the dark tangle of evil by placing a seed of salvation there, starting its transformation from darkness into light, from death into life. Today Mark presents us with this divine entrance within our boundaries of limited creatures and does so with what is conventionally called “the day of Capernaum”. In fact, right on the first page of Mark appears a sequence of acts of Jesus framed in the time span of a day and in the geographical space of the town of Capernaum which overlooks the northern coast of Lake Tiberias and which was the point of fundamental reference of the first phase of the preaching and public ministry of Jesus.
There are three scenes that today’s liturgy offers us within that “day”. The first is intimate and familiar and is the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, feverish and nailed to bed. In parentheses we must point out that the archaeological excavations, conducted in Capernaum especially by the Franciscan Fr. Virgilio Corbo, made it possible to isolate an area that most likely corresponded to the small space of the house of Peter, which soon became the seat of an ancient place of Christian worship, now incorporated into a modern sanctuary. Jesus in front of that woman does not utter any word or raise prayers, differently from what Paul will do in Malta in front of the father of the Roman official Publius, who was also affected by fever (Acts 28,8).
Jesus simply and silently approaches the patient, lifts her up taking her by the hand. It is precisely in the essentiality of the scene that the strength of Christ, his triumphant power over evil, appears in all its solemnity. But the story is ideally illuminated by the light of Easter through a small detail that the evangelist has left to fall into the story. In fact, the “rising” of the healed woman is in Greek the same verb (egheiren) that in the New Testament defines the resurrection of Christ. And the woman’s response is no longer a simple act of courtesy and gratitude: in fact, the Greek verb that indicates her “service” after her recovery is that of “diakonia”, that is, the critical service of the faithful.
The second scene, on the other hand, is set at the town gate, “after the sun has set”. Jesus performs a series of mass healings (“various diseases, many demons”), a kind of emblematic fight against all forms of evil, physical and internal. It is not for nothing that the entire passage is marked by the adjective «all» or «a lot»: «They brought him all the sick … the whole city was in front of the door. He healed many, cast out many demons … Everyone is looking for you or … He went throughout the Galilee”. Faced with the force of pain and the demonic, Christ stands with all the grandeur of his mystery, whose outlines are not understandable to the spectators but whose saving efficacy is experimental and visible. In fact, in the story emerges the so-called “messianic secret” which will be revealed only in the light of Easter: “he did not allow the demons to speak because they knew him”.
Noticeably short and conclusive is the third scene, that of dawn. Jesus is wrapped in the silence of contemplation. But immediately after he is immersed in the embrace of the crowd, anxious to be freed from evil. The picture closes with an essential portrait of Jesus in his dual mission as herald of the Kingdom of God and as the Savior of humanity from evil.
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