“Will You Come and Follow Me if I but Call Your Name?”
(The Summons hymn by John Bell, GIA Publications)
This Gospel reading from Mark is only a glimpse into a single day that the church wisely spreads over a few weeks of readings. It gives us the opportunity to study each event of the day more closely. We get the impression that it would have been a challenge for the people following Jesus to keep up with Him. You may have noticed one of Mark’s favorite words is “immediately.” He uses it over and again – twelve times in the first chapter alone. So far in the story, Jesus has called four fishermen to leave their nets and their boats and follow him which they did “immediately.” (Later we’ll realize they did not give up fishing altogether.) We’ve traveled with them and Jesus to a small fishing village, Capernaum, where on the Sabbath Jesus began teaching in the synagogue. In last week’s portion from Mark, a demon-possessed man challenged Jesus and referred to him as the Holy One of God. But Jesus told the unclean spirit to be silent and come out of the man. The demon obeyed “immediately.”
Now, in this reading it’s still the Sabbath Day. Jesus and his disciples have just left the synagogue after the encounter with the demon. The next part of the story happens over the next few hours of the same day.
Maybe the band of men went to Simon’s house because it was closest to the synagogue or maybe just because they followed Simon’s lead. Perhaps they went because his mother-in-law had the reputation of quickly putting a nice spread on the table. But today she is down with a fever. Simon doesn’t miss a beat. He tells Jesus this “immediately.” Perhaps by way of apologizing for the woman not greeting them at the door. Or maybe, remember the laws concerning uncleanness? Maybe it was to warn that there was illness in the house. Or maybe, do you think, because Simon has a hunch that Jesus, who has just shown authority over an unclean spirit, might also have the authority to drive out a fever???
Jesus doesn’t say a word. He simply takes the woman by the hand and brings her to her feet. The fever is gone “immediately.” As Jesus brings her to her feet, the verb Mark uses is identical to the one he uses later in the Gospel to describe Jesus’ resurrection from the dead: He lifts her up. And the mother-in-law “immediately” responds by getting busy on dinner preparation. For her, and for Jesus, it is not a menial, slave-like serving. In a sense, Simon’s mother-in-law is the first deacon. Elsewhere we read “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you, must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” Well into the night, Jesus attended to the ill and the possessed among the crowd who gathered at the door, curing many who were sick. He must have been drained as “power went out from him.”
Then, in the early hours of the morning before sunrise while it was still dark as night, it sounds like Jesus tiptoed out of the house. Scripture tells us He went to a deserted place to pray (not a desert – there was no desert nearby). This was the only place on this night, with many others to follow, where he could talk one-on-one with his Father, without interruption. But it didn’t last long. Our English translation says Peter and the others PURSURED him. Think of a mother having escaped to the bathroom for a few minutes of aloneness. “Mom are you in there?” Or a prioress who leaves her office for a few minutes. “You’re never in the office!” Peter tells Jesus “EVERYONE is looking for you.” Jesus’ response probably was not what they were expecting to hear. “Let’s go to the neighboring towns so I can preach there, too. That’s my job.” The disciples were at a crossroads, at one of those “bend in the road” moments. Do we stick with this follow who can never say NO to any request? Do we keep following?
That’s a choice we must make many times over in our lives. It begins each and every day with “shall I hit the snooze button and roll over, or turn off the alarm and get to chapel to join in communal prayer?” It’s a choice we make in multiple ways, probably more times than we realize, throughout each day and into the evening. What word of kindness can I share? Can I tear myself from what I’m doing to get to chapel with some breathing space before prayer begins? At night, will I force myself to stay awake to finish this chapter or TV program, or do I go to bed so I’ll be rested for the morrow with all its new challenges and choices?
The people of Capernaum missed the point. They showed up for the miracles, but they failed to hear and absorb Jesus’ message. It’s the same news Jesus wants to share with you, with us. Repent, turn away from your old ways, and believe the Good News that God is with you in the NOW. Are you willing to be changed? Will you be transformed? Will you keep following? Will you get up, as Simon’s mother-in-law did, and join the laborers to feed God’s people and further the Kingdom?”
Remember us, and all Benedictine women (including Oblates and those who received their education with Benedictine Sisters) on Wednesday, St. Scholastica Day … This week our special intention is Benedictine Prioresses who are leading their communities thru COVID times … many of the monasteries are dealing directly with the virus among their members – God bless them all.
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress