Love and Service
In this beautiful homily for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly looks at the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and he reminds us that the response to being healed is to serve.
First Reading: Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Second Reading: First Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
Gospel: Mark 1:29-39
Before talking about the Gospel, I’d like to say a word or two about the first reading, which is from the book of Job.
The book of Job was written many, many, many centuries before us, even before Jesus. It’s considered, however, by literary people, by those who seem to know an awful lot about literature as, perhaps, if there are ten greatest books in the whole world, one of them is the book of Job. It has such a high reputation.
And I like it because it’s very depressing, and, when you’re reading something that’s very depressing, I feel quite happy that there’s somebody else as depressed (chuckles) as I am.
But it is a beautiful book. It’s hard to read, but if you want to get the story, you read the first chapter and the last chapter, and that in itself are just wonderful books.
It’s about a man who’s true to God and believes God loves him.
And then the devil says, “Well, of course he’s a good man, because, the reason is because you give him so much — you gave him a wife and family and blah, blah, blah, and all of this.”
And then God looks at Satan – He’s up in heaven, this story’s up in heaven – and the devil says, “Of course, if you hurt him, like, maybe, if all the money that he has, he lost all that…”
Anyhow, to make a long story short, there’s a series of trials that poor Job has to undergo and he comes through each of them. But towards the end, he’s reduced to nothing. He’s lost everything. His children are all dead and his wife is still there and she says, “You’ve lost everything and just curse God and die.”
And he says, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
I think everybody that knows anything about quotations knows that one: the Lord gives, the Lord takes away, and blessed be the name of the Lord.
So, he hangs in there. But he’s a smart fellow and he demands that God, he wants a trial because God’s not fair, you see.
But he wants a trial and so God allows a trial to take place. And he’s got these little friends around him. And he gives his case to God that he is not someone who should be treated so. He treats God so wonderfully and “What are you doing to me?” Blah, blah, blah.
And a voice comes from heaven like thunder and it’s God’s voice. And He looks at Job and He says, “Who are you to question me, the God…?”
Well, he kind of gets a little bit frightened. And finally, he says, “I’m sorry, Lord, I know you are God and I am man, and I must accept what happens.”
He apologises to God, but, in his heart, he feels somehow that he’s got the short end of the stick, you see.
His friends had been saying, “The reason all these terrible things are happening to you is because you’re a sinner, because you’ve sinned.”
And Job says, “No, I haven’t sinned,” meaning serious sins, you know, “because I’ve done something wrong, I haven’t.” And he’s trying to defend himself.
And, finally, when God gets done yelling at poor old Job, He turns to these friends of his who come and say you must be sinning because only sinners suffer, only sinners suffer and they deserve to suffer and so God punishes them, and Job keeps saying, “I’m innocent. I’m innocent.”
And God turns to his friends and says, “As for you, Job is right. This is my Job.” He praises him for being faithful and true. “No matter what happens he’s faithful and true and loves God and refuses to turn his back to Him, whereas the rest of you are just kind of shooting your mouth off about everybody deserves punishment and should be treated this way.”
In effect, what He’s saying is God is a lover and you people aren’t. And so it ends. He gets everything back: his family, his friends, even his money. He gets everything back.
Now the poet who wrote this was a genius and he’s considered one of the great poets of all time, but we don’t know who he is. But the message is very, very good and very sure.
But the question remains, why would he suffer and what is God going to do about it?
And there are many answers to that, and you must, before you pass away up to heaven, read the book of Job and read it out loud. It’s a beautiful, beautiful book.
But now, I’ll bring you to today’s Gospel.
And why all that before this Gospel?
Because the first reading is supposed to introduce the second reading.
And you say, “Good heavens, what is there in the second reading that we are learning from the first?”
Well, if the first reading is God is not taking care of Job, the second reading is how God is taking care of us. And, of course, we’re dealing with another wonderful writer and this wonderful writer is Mark.
Now Mark was just a little boy when Jesus came to preach. He was probably on the young end of being a teenager. And Mark, as I told you last week, had a very funny experience with St Paul who… but we won’t go into that, it would take a while.
But, anyhow, Mark grew up to be a friend of St Peter, because St Peter made him his secretary. And so when you hear the passages all this year of Mark, you’re listening to St Peter’s voice, because he got all of his material from St Peter.
I’m just going to go over it briefly.
It begins with them leaving the synagogue.
Remember Jesus is in Galilee. He is in Capernaum, which is a little village at the southern point of the Sea of Galilee. And he is there and has already called his four favourite disciples.
They go to the synagogue and there (remember last week), there was a man in terrible personal turmoil, yelling and screaming and crying out. And all the people said, “He has a devil. He has a demon.”
And Jesus just walks over to him very nicely and quietly, and says, “Quiet!” And the man becomes calm. And Jesus says, “Whatever you are, get out of him.” And the man settles down.
And everybody wonders and they say, “What a wonderful teaching. Is this a new teaching?”
Because, you see, in the Old Testament, people taught not by explaining things like I am, they taught by what they did. You followed what a person did, and then that was their teaching. And this is especially true of Jesus, and especially if Mark writes it.
So, if you’re going to read the whole Gospel of Mark, what you have to do is pay attention to what Jesus says, but most of all pay attention to what Jesus does.
And everybody realises that what Jesus has done with this man is an exorcism. He has torn all that is plaguing this man, who was screaming and yelling and uncontrollable, and with one word and walking to him, he heals him.
So the main thing that little Mark wants you to understand is Jesus has come to heal us. Jesus is God’s Son and he has come to heal us.
He’s the answer to the need of Job, who feels all alone and these terrible things happen to him. God responds and sends Jesus, and Jesus goes about the world healing.
If you want to imitate Jesus, you’re not supposed to walk around pointing fingers at what is wrong in the world. You’re supposed to see that the trouble of the world is something that you are sent to be a part of as a healer, one who heals.
And why do we do that?
Jesus speaks, Jesus heals. He wants us, his disciples, to speak, but he wants us also to heal, and he gives us the power.
And this is a great power.
We think of wonderful things that the saints do. Saints, basically, they’re doing what Jesus told his disciples: the two things that you must do in life.
Learn to love. Learn to love is the first one. Learn to love as Jesus loves. That is the most important.
But the second is also very important, for we have come to be healers of the world, not criticisers, healers of the world.
And so, when we ask, “What does God expect of us?” there’s just two things: learn to love, learn to heal. Very simple: learn to love, learn to heal. Loving means self-sacrificing love. Healing means to reach out to the pains and torments of the world – and God knows the world is full of it – as a healer. And then you would have fulfilled the whole of the Gospel for that is what he does.
So, we always say (you’ve heard this before) the two main reasons for us being Christian is to love and to serve. That’s all, there’s nothing else, to love and to serve.
Or, for us, because we fail all the time, is you listen to Mother Teresa who said, “There’s no such thing in a Christian life as failure. The only failure in Christian life is when you fail and fall down and you refuse to get up again. You walk around like a dead man or a dead person.”
To love and to serve. And service is love and love is service, and you never separate the two.
It seems quite simple, but it takes a lifetime to learn it and to feel it.
Because there’s another thing about Christianity. It’s not interested in the head. It’s not interested in the explanations. It’s not interested in all the theological stuff that we do. It’s interested in the human heart. And a human heart without the head is blind. It needs the head, but it’s not the main interest of God.
God has come to change our hearts, not our heads. I change my head at least ten times a week. I have an opinion in the morning and by night time I don’t have it anymore. That’s a head. But to actually feel touched by God in your heart and one with Jesus and trying to love and understand, this is for all time, this is what we are, this is what we’re made of.
That’s why we should think that the best theologians in the world sometimes are the musicians, are the dancers, are the painters, are those who bring love and beauty and this sort of thing, not are we all going to follow the Ten Commandments and this and that and the rest.
It seems a little heavy. It’s not heavy, it’s very light.
And Jesus says it again and again.
What does he say?
His final words: “Love one another.” That’s all: love one another.
And he says, and this is the hard part, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
How does he love?
Did you ever call upon God and feel you were not forgiven?
Did you ever call upon God and not realise He forgave you before you called upon Him?
He’s a lover. If God is a lover, God is love. We say that all the time. Lovers are all forgiving. They don’t have time for not forgiving. They don’t apologise, because they have nothing to apologise about. They just love.
It takes maybe our whole lives to learn that, and it’s a wonderful trip that is the School of Christ.
You notice, he goes in, there’s a man torn, really torn up, he doesn’t know which end is up. Everybody says he’s got a devil, he’s got a demon.
I remember my mother, whenever I was very naughty and insistent, she used to say, “You’ve got a devil,” you know (chuckles). And I would tease her later on when I found out what an exorcist was. I would have said to her, “Well, then exorcise me.” Hug me and kiss me and come close to me. That’s what exorcism is: is to bring peace and joy and happiness and feeling back into somebody who has lost their way and lost everything.
I’ve gone a long way in this and I don’t know how I’m going to get out of it, so I’d better get out of it fast with the time constraints.
But, today, a couple of things that you should walk out with.
The first one is that Mark is talking to you. Mark is collecting all the things he wants you to know. Jesus, as John says in his own Gospel, if everything that Jesus said and did and wrote, if all of that was put into a book, all the libraries in the world wouldn’t be able to contain it.
But Mark is very, very small. It’s the smallest Gospel, the briefest Gospel, so every word that he chooses is very important to Mark. And because Mark was there and Mark was listening as a little kid to Peter and James and John, and later on he’s part of the beginning of what Christianity means, we take every word he says. So …
On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon Peter, James and John, these are the cornerstones of the new world.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
Do you realise before antibiotics came, to be sick with a fever was a very dangerous, dangerous sickness, because there were no cures for the fevers. And there she was: she lay sick with fever.
And then Mark says
They immediately told him about her.
And what does Jesus do?
Does he give them advice? Does he give them a sermon?
He doesn’t say anything. He just walks over and takes her hand and he holds her hand. And then he raises her up.
Now, the next time you see that expression, “He raises her up,” will be when we speak of the Resurrection, for God the Father raises him up from death to new life.
And that is what Jesus does. There is no waiting in an outback of nowhere. He walks in and he raises her up.
And what does she do?
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
She’s a mother. She’s a woman. She knows all this big crowd coming in.
What does she think of?
“Oh, a miracle, wonderful. Gee, this is terrific. Let’s all go to church and thank God.”
No, she says, “All these people need a meal.” So, she’s a mother, and what mothers do is cook for guests, especially important guests like Jesus and his disciples.
Simple, simple, simple, right? That’s Mark, very simple.
But when you think the Resurrection is a raising up from death to new life, Jesus raises her up from the edge of darkness so that she can come alive again.
And what is she alive for?
Right away, you know, she has been given her life to serve others, not herself. And she does that.
The rest of the Gospel is very simple:
When it was evening, after sunset,
The reason it was in the evening after sunset is because on the Sabbath nobody is allowed to work, even carrying sick people. So it’s now allowable time.
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.
Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
These are all the things that are expected of a disciple – went off to pray.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
How does he preach?
By word, yes, but by action, by loving them and reaching out to them and caring for them and reading their hearts, what they really need.
For this purpose have I come.”
And who is doing all of this wonderful stuff?
Jesus will say, “It is your Father in heaven, and whatever I do is the sign that you are loved, that you are cared for, that you, if you believe in yourself and in your love, can change the world.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
And that is the beginning of the church, in Galilee and now through the whole world.
And it remains the same all these centuries: if you want to know what your purpose in life is, your purpose in life is to learn how to love and learn how to serve, as Jesus did.
And that is the will of God for us all.