Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 8
Mark 1: 29-39
Today’s Gospel for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time presents us with material for the same theme as yesterday’s for Saturday of the Fourth Week: Balance in our lives. Not too long ago we read the Gospel where the disciples returned to Jesus after their first mission of preaching and healing. Jesus noticed they were tired and told them to go away to a quiet place and rest for a while. The first half of this Sunday’s Gospel shows Jesus working, healing people from their various “demons” and other illnesses. “The whole town was gathered at the door.” The Gospel then tells us, “Rising early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” Then he went back to work again. Both of these instances show balance in the mind of Jesus, both for his tired disciples and for himself. Jesus never gets drawn into the extremes. He is always searching for the middle ground, for balance in his life. We see this also in the Book of Genesis where God the Father “rested” after the “work” of creating the world and all that is in it.
This idea of balance in life is something all of us need to keep in mind. As the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us in the 3rd chapter, “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.” The first 8 or 9 verses of chapter 3 show us the balance of life. This is a good place in Scripture to turn to for reflection from time to time. We all have to remember that there is no virtue in a life of extremes. Workaholics think they are being virtuous in all the work they do, but really they are neglecting many other necessary things that have a definite place in their lives – and that is wrong, not virtuous.
Every day we should take the time to work, pray, play, laugh, communicate with others, and take some quiet time alone. Such balance is healthy physically, mentally and spiritually. Taking care of the whole person is part of being a holy person. Do we always understand and follow this?
Monday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 9
Mark 6: 53-56
Our Gospel chosen to be read for today’s Liturgy shows Jesus as the Healer. “Whatever village or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.”
These words are for all practical purposes a guarantee that if we touch Jesus, we will be healed. The word healing is used both literally and figuratively in the Scriptures. It can, and more often than not does, signify the physical healing of a disease. But it can also be used to indicate peace of mind, acceptance, freedom from worry and anxiety, spiritual renewal, healing unbelief, etc., at the time of illness or even outside a time of illness. These figurative healings are most important, too, and often are the result of our prayers and rituals for a sick person. Hospital personnel bear witness to the benefit of the spiritual care of patients in the way of giving them peace of mind, acceptance of the illness they have, etc., as just indicated above.
Let this Gospel for today remind us of praying for the sick, of bringing them Eucharist and having the Sacrament of the Sick administered to them. Christ “touches” us and heals us in many ways whenever we seek him out for his touch.
Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 10
Mark 7: 1-13
“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.”
This Gospel chosen to be read today reminds me of the old saying: “All smoke and no fire”. Smoke is useless. It is the fire that matters. The Gospel for today shows how the Pharisees and scribes ritualized everything. They were more concerned with the purification of the hands before eating, with the purification of cups, jugs, kettles and beds before their use. But there was no sign of love in all of this at all.
One of the oldest rituals in the world, I am told, is a mother’s kiss. Her child falls down and scrapes his arm. It is bleeding and it hurts terribly. The child runs screaming to his mother. She kisses the arm and the child stops crying. Why? Because ritual works even if we don’t understand why and here it is mixed with the mother’s love for her child. Just plain ritual is going through the motions. Jesus mixed love and ritual (touching, the words, spittle, mud, etc.) in his healing people, feeding them, forgiving them. There is just no substitute for love along with whatever else we do for someone.
Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 11
Mark 7: 14-23
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine? But what comes out of the man, that is what defiles him. From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, ….. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
The Second Book of Maccabees in chapters 6 and 7 tells how Syria conquered Israel c. 169 BC and tried to eliminate the Jewish faith. In chapter 6 is the story of what happened to Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes, when they tried to make him eat pork. In chapter 7 the particularly gruesome tale is told of a Mother and Her Sons. There were seven sons and they all informed the king that they would rather die than eat pork, thereby transgressing the laws of their ancestors. Chapter 7 tells of their executions one by one and last of all the mother is also put to death for refusing to eat pork, an unclean food. These stories are the earliest models of “martyrology” and were popular among the Christians of the early times. They encouraged the early Christians in the times of persecution to hang in there. But for many of the traditionalist Jewish people, these stories caused them to place more importance on unclean food than on an unclean heart. And it was this kind of thinking that Jesus was trying to correct.
As we said above, we have rituals in the Church today; the Mass and the administration of all the Sacraments are highly ritualistic along with the music and so on that accompanies them. But the point is that we must allow these things to enter into our hearts and change us and not be just external performances.
Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 12
Mark 7: 24-30
In the Gospel from Mark chosen to be read today, a Greek woman, a Syrophoenician, and a Gentile, begs Jesus to drive a demon out of her daughter. Jesus responded to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” And she replied to Jesus, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” In these verses from Mark, the Greek word used for dog is kynarion. a diminutive of the Greek word for dog, kyon. Kynarion is used here in the literal sense and means a puppy. So in both the words of Jesus to the woman and her words in response to Jesus, the word dog in the text means a puppy dog, a pet of the family. Both Jesus and the woman are using the word “dog” in a playful way, not in any metaphorical way that could produce a bad connotation here. Jesus is not insulting the woman in any way and she knows that. And Jesus, at the conclusion of this harmless bantering, drives the demon from the woman’s daughter.
Jesus tells us in another part of the Gospel to knock and the door will be opened for us. Our Gospel for today tells us we can ask Jesus for help even in a more or less aggressive way. Getting a bit angry with the Lord can sometimes be a good prayer. Henry Longfellow is reported to have said: “If you knock long enough and loud enough, you are sure to wake up somebody.” We might say that the woman in today’s Gospel woke up the Lord and he helped her with her problem.
Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 13
Mark 7: 31-37
The Gospel chosen to be read today can make me realize just how blessed I am. The other day I read a wise little saying: “I wept because I had no shoes, until I saw someone who had no feet”. We are so blessed in what God has given us – yet we complain often about some things we do not have or cannot do. This is true of all of us to some extent. The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. But there are some people with no grass at all.
Our homily for today is just a short reminder to thank God and be gracious for the many gifts and talents he has given to us. The solution for our complaining about things occasionally or feeling sorry for ourselves is really three little words: Thank you, God.
Saturday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 14
Mark 8: 1-10
“Then, taking the seven loaves he gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute, and they distributed them to the crowd. They also had a few fish. He said the blessing over them and ordered them distributed also.”
Today’s Gospel selection is taken from the second account given in the Gospel of St. Mark of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The first time it is told in Mark’s Gospel is in chapter 6, verses 31-44. We also find this miracle described twice in the Gospel of St. Matthew.
These two accounts in the same Gospel of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes have Eucharistic significance. Both accounts are similar in structure and theme but they are somewhat different in detail. Many scholars believe that both accounts refer to a single event that, however, are developed in two distinct traditions, one Jewish Christian and the other Gentile Christian, since Jesus in Mark’s presentation (7: 24-37) has extended his saving mission to the Gentiles.
Perhaps, just perhaps, this second rendition of the same event is a foreshadowing of the day when all Christians will be able to break bread together as the one family of God. Let us pray for this to happen sooner rather than later. In connection with this idea, it would be good for all of us to read the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 10.