Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Theme: Jesus’ public ministry
By: Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB
Christ in the Desert Monastery, Abiquiu, New Mexico
Homily for Sunday February 7 2021
This Sunday’s Gospel passage continues to reveal aspects of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Having cast out evil spirits and preached in the synagogue, which we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel, today we see Jesus moving on to the house of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. There the mother-in-law of Simon Peter is ill with a fever. Jesus cures her—what her name is we don’t even know—and immediately she begins to serve her guests, indicating a complete and thorough recovery. We may ask: why the emphasis here and in many other places in the Gospels on cures from illness connected to being freed of possession by evil spirits.
It is good to remember that in Jesus’ time, sickness was considered the result of evil and sin, either of the person who was sick or of the person’s ancestors. This was a long-standing thinking in the ancient world, right up to the time of Jesus. The miracles of Jesus are understood by the Gospel writers as being signs of victory over the power of evil and the fulfillment of ancient prophesies about the coming Messiah who would loose the bonds of slavery to sin. The people would especially see this manifested in cures from physical illness.
However, Jesus did not want to be seen as a magician or simply a wonder-worker. Something much more profound was to be understood in Jesus’ activities. The point of his miracles is pastoral and messianic. In other words, salvation has come to all in the person of Jesus Christ, extending far beyond physical cure, encompassing the entire person, body, soul and spirit.
After the healing of the mother-in-law of Simon Peter, the people decide this should be for one and all, so they bring their infirm and demon-possessed to Jesus’ attention, at every hour and in every place. Jesus continued to perform cures and news of this spread far and wide, but eventually he sought a solitary place in order to pray.
Even so, Christ in the desert was sought out by many. After Jesus passed time in prayer, Saint Mark tells us that Jesus carried on with the work of preaching and curing throughout all of Galilee, but ultimately for the life of the entire world and for ever age.
The world today in so many ways is still gripped with fever and sickness. We are caught in the grips of a devastating pandemic. Today many are plagued too with the fever of intolerance and hatred, injustice and war, slavery and addiction in so many forms. No less than at the time of Jesus, the world today needs the powerful cure which only Christ can give, freedom from what is not of God. The goal is to belong completely to God’s Kingdom and to share in the eternal life being offered to all people, rich and poor, young and old alike.
The Lord is always seeking collaborators in his work, and is not going to simply wave a magic wand and make all things well. How much easier that would be, but it does not seem the way of God. God respects the free will of humans, offers grace, but does not force cooperation with divine intervention in human lives.
Christ continues in our midst with healing, salvation and freedom for the human race, subject to sin and loss, but worthy of redemption in Jesus Christ. God so loved the world that He sent his own beloved Son, and for this we give thanks without ceasing, for the graciousness of God has appeared on earth for our benefit. Christ has destroyed death once and for all, bestowing light and life, immortality and eternal bliss without cost, only asking for our willing and complete response to his grace.
We believe that our salvation is in Jesus Christ, not in a perfect socio-political structure. We should always strive for a more just and loving society, but we do it by means of proclaiming the Gospel by our words and deeds. That Gospel is the revelation to the nations of the saving deeds of God for humans, realized in Christ, in his Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We might ask ourselves, what is my understanding of the person of Jesus Christ? Is it more along the lines of a magician that might help me out when things go bad? That seems to be how so many people in His own time perceived Jesus to be. Or do I recognize in Christ the Savior unto life eternal for the human race? What am I doing for the growth of the Kingdom of God? Is my relationship to God merely on the pragmatic level, in terms of what can I get from God? Do I only call on the Lord when I am in distress? Do I place my trust in God when things go well and tend to fall away when things go bad?
Our Christian faith is about belonging to Christ at all times, until the end, when we hope to share in a life that is changed, not ended, beyond the grave. Now is the time to be ready for the future, by living in the present, without fear, even in our trials and setbacks.
We can look to Job, the subject of the first reading today, as a model of steadfastness in adversity, who never despaired of God’s mercy, which in fact is one of the “instruments of good works” highly recommended to the monks by Saint Benedict: “de Dei misericordia numquam desperare” (Rule of Saint Benedict, chapter 4:74); that is, “Never despair of God’s mercy.”
At every Eucharist we ask Christ to help us realize more and more the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit and the tremendous gift of Christ’s Body and Blood offered to us. With this help we can place our hope not in results or success as the world understands it: health, wealth and beauty, but in really belonging to Christ who sets us free and desires our happiness in the things that really matter, communion with God, peace, joy and eternal happiness.
May God assist us to choose what is right, what builds up the Kingdom and what opens to us the gates of holiness what Saint Benedict calls, “the deifying light.” May nothing hinder us from giving ourselves completely to God and to our service for the building up of God’s Kingdom.