The Sabbath of Christ: to Pray, to Heal, to Preach and to Pray Again

Lectio Divina: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

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Roman Rite – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – February 8, 2015

Gb 7, 1-4.6-7; Ps 147; 1Cor 9, 16-19.22-23; Mk 1.29 to 39[1]

Ambrosian Rite – Penultimate Sunday after the Epiphany called of «the divine clemency»

Os 6, 1-6; Ps 50; Gal 2.19 to 3.7; Lk 7.36 to 50

1) The day of Christ.

Today’s Gospel describes a Saturday spent by Jesus in Capernaum that can be regarded as the paradigm of how Jesus lived the Jewish day of rest, and may be a paradigm for our Sundays and for the other days of the week if we live our work as the way to build a world healed and redeemed.

This day of Jesus is marked by his three primary occupations: to immerse himself in prayer with the Father, to be with the family and among the people, and to heal the sick. Jesus speaks to man, and with His hand, which is the hand of the Infinite, touches the hand of the finite person, in this case that of the mother-in-law of Peter, but all this is «imbued» with God. It starts from prayer and ends in prayer.

Today’s Gospel tells us of a Saturday begun in the synagogue that continues in Simon’s house, where Jesus heals his mother-in-law, and out of this house where the Messiah heals many sick and demon-possessed people.  Let’s pay attention to the fact that the story does not end with the evening of Saturday, but with the narrative of Jesus who before dawn goes to a solitary place where He, the Son, speaks with God, the Father.

By the lake, in a synagogue, in a house, in a square and in a desolate place: every place is good for the encounter between us and the Lord, who calls us. Every hour may be the right one, and every place is convenient for the encounter with God: the synagogue, the house of the people, the solitary place.

Let us try to imagine the scene described in the Gospel: Jesus, after he left the synagogue and between two wings of people, goes to the home of Simon Peter, where the mother-in-law lays in bed with fever. Immediately He heals her, taking her hand in his hand. Hand in hand as force transmitted to those who are tired or sick, as the hand of a brother and a friend that gives confidence to the brother and the friend weak or ill. Jesus raises (the Greek word is the one used by the Gospel even to speak of the resurrection) the mother-in-law of Peter. Jesus raises, straightens up (resurrects) this woman and brings her back to her upright posture and to the pride of doing and taking care of others. The woman gets up and starts serving[2].

The Lord also takes us by hand.  Let us do the same, let us take the hand that is extended towards us. How many things a hand holds! An act like that can raise a life. This, according to the Gospel of Mark, is the first miracle of Jesus, the smallest in appearance, but it tells the meaning of all the others: Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, frees us from physical and spiritual evil and makes us free so that we can do good. Then let’s do at least like the mother-in-law of Peter, healed from the fever, who mimics immediately Jesus who came to serve because he loves us. To serve means to love not with words, but with deeds.

I think the sense of all the miracles that Jesus does is to change the life of men, to return them to themselves and to God. According to the Gospel of Mark, the first miracle of Christ is the healing of the mother-in-law of Peter, then during his public life He

– heals also the blinds so that they may have eyes that see,

– heals the deaf so that they may have ears that hear,

– heals the mute so that their mouth may tell the truth,

– heals the lames so that they may have feet to follow him,

– heals the hands so that a man with open and stretched hands may piously touch his neighbor and help his brothers and sisters in humanity,

– heals the hands of the heart so that they may be joined in prayer and man may enter into communion with God. Jesus himself, at night and until dawn, even if “tired” of healing, goes into a solitary place to pray.

2) Day and evening to think of man, night and dawn to think of God.

Jesus besieged by pain, in a whirlwind surge (the night, outside the house of Simon Peter, the people with his pain hurries to Jesus, delivers his pain and finds life) knows how to find space and time to be with the Father. Jesus teaches us how to create those secret places that give health to the soul; spaces for prayer, where nothing is more important than God, where to tell Him “I’m in front of you. For a time that I know to be short, I will not put anything ahead of you; nothing in these few minutes will come ahead of you.” It is our declaration of love.

In the narrative of the Gospel, the setting of Jesus’ prayer is at the crossroads between the insertion in the tradition of his people and the novelty of a unique personal relationship with God. «The desert place» (cf. Mk 1:35) where He retires and «the night» that allows him solitude (cf. Mk 1.35; 6.46 to 47; Lk 6:12) recall events in the journey of God’s revelation in the Old Testament, indicating the continuity of his saving plan. At the same time they mark moments of particular importance to Jesus, who knowingly fits into this plan, fully faithful to the will of the Father.

Even in our prayer we must learn, more and more, to enter into this history of salvation of which Jesus is the summit, to renew before God our personal decision to open ourselves to his will and to ask him the strength to conform our will to his, in the totality of our lives, in obedience to his plan of love for us.

The prayer of Jesus touches all stages of his ministry and all his days. Labors do not block it. The Gospels, indeed, reveal the custom of Jesus to spend part of the night in prayer.

Looking to Jesus’ prayer, let us ask ourselves: how do I pray? What and how much time do I devote to a relationship with God? Who can be my master?

The first Master is Jesus, who teaches us the Our Father and reveals the novelty of our dialogue with God through the filial prayer that the Father expects from his children. And we learn from Jesus how a constant prayer helps us to interpret our life, to operate our choices, to recognize and accept our vocation.

Then we, small disciples of this great Master, are called to be witnesses of prayer because our world is often closed to the divine horizon and to the hope that an encounter with God brings. In friendship with Jesus and living in him and with him the filial relationship with the Father, we can open the windows to the Heaven of God through our faithful and constant prayer.

To the ones that do not have the  time and  the opportunity to pray with the Liturgy of the Hours,  I suggest to pray the Angelus in the morning to commemorate the resurrection of Christ, at noon to celebrate his crucifixion and in the evening to remember his birth. Or to start the day with these two prayers: «Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one«, taken from Deuteronomy 6.4, and «Our Father, who art in heaven …” The first prayer is the listening, the second the answer. In listening I learn that God is One, and in response I say now: «My Father …» (see Divo Barsotti).

The fact that prayer is the most important “job” can be understood by the fact that the first and indispensable commitment of the consecrated Virgins in the world is prayer, as it is specifically requested to them during the rite of consecration (See Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins). In fact, handing the book of the Liturgy of the Hours, the Bishop turns to the consecrated with these words: “Receive the book of the liturgy of the hours, the prayer of the Church; may the praise of our heavenly Father be always on your lips; pray without ceasing for the salvation of the world

With special affection and devotion the Virgins cultivate with the Virgin Mary, model of all discipleship and every consecrat
ion, humble filial confidence, intercessory prayer and contemplation of the mysteries of her Son Jesus.

Each virgin belonging to the Ordo Virginum keeps constantly in mind that prayer is not only a personal and generous answer to the voice of the Bridegroom and humble request for help to maintain loyalty to the holy commitment and to the gift received, but it is intimate participation to the life of the mystical body of Christ, unceasing intercession for the church and for the world.

Patristic Reading

Golden Chain

6129 Mc 1,29-31

Bede, in Marc., 1, 7: First, it was right that the serpent’s tongue should be shut up, that it might not spread any more venom; then that the woman, who was first seduced, should be healed from the fever of carnal concupiscence.

Wherefore it is said, «And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, &c.»

Theophylact: He retired then as the custom was on the sabbath-day about evening to eat in His disciples’ house. But she who ought to have ministered was prevented by a fever.

Wherefore it goes on, «But Simon’s wife’s mother was lying sick of a fever.»

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc., 1, 32: But the disciples, knowing that they were to receive a benefit by that means, without waiting for the evening prayed that Peter’s mother should be healed.

Wherefore there follows, «who immediately tell Him of her.»

Bede: But in the Gospel of Luke it is written that «they besought Him for her.» (Lc 4,38) For the Saviour sometimes after being asked, sometimes of His own accord, heals the sick, shewing that He always assents to the prayers of the faithful, when they pray also against bad passions, and sometimes gives them to understand things which they do not understand at all, or else, when they pray unto Him dutifully, forgives their want of understanding; as the Psalmist begs of God, «Cleanse me, O Lord, from my secret faults.» (Ps 19,12)

Wherefore He heals her at their request; for there follows, «And He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up.»

Theophylact: By this it is signified, that God will heal a sick man, if he ministers to the Saints, through love to Christ.

Bede, in Marc., 1, 6: But in that He gives most profusely His gifts of healing and doctrine on the sabbath day, He teaches, that He is not under the Law, but above the Law, and does not choose the Jewish sabbath, but the true sabbath, and our rest is pleasing to the Lord, if, in order to attend to the health of our souls, we abstain from slavish work, that is, from all unlawful things.

It goes on, «And immediately the fever left her, &c.»

Bede, in Marc., 1, 8: The health which is conferred at the command of the Lord, returns at once entire, accompanied with such strength that she is able to [p. 29] minister to those of whose help she had before stood in need.

Again, if we suppose that the man delivered from the devil means, in the moral way of interpretation, the soul purged from unclean thoughts, fitly does the woman cured of a fever by the command of God mean the flesh, restrained from the heat of it concupiscence by the precepts of continence.

Pseudo-Jerome: For the fever means intemperance, from which, we the sons of the synagogue [ed. note: See St. Augustine on Ps 72, no. 4, 5, «Ecclesia Socrus Synagogue.» The Church is called the daughter of the Synagogue in the spurious ‘Altercatio Eccles. et Synagog.’ (Aug. Opp t. viii, p. 19.) They word ‘synagogue’ is applied to the Church by Justin M. Dial, see Tryph, p. 160 (Ben.) Clem. Alex. Str. vi, 633.], by the hand of discipline, and by the lifting up of our desires, are healed, and minister to the will of Him who heals us.

Theophylact: But he has a fever who is angry, and in the unruliness of his anger stretches forth his hands to do hurt; but if reason restrains his hands, he will arise, and so serve reason.

6132 Mc 1,32-34

Theophylact: Because the multitude thought that it was not lawful to heal on the sabbath day, they waited for the evening, to bring those who were to be healed to Jesus.

Wherefore it is said, «And at even, when the sun had set.»

There follows, «and He healed many that were vexed with divers diseases.»

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Now in that he says «many», all are to be understood according to the Scripture mode of expression.

Theophylact: Or he says, «many», because there were some faithless persons, who could not at all be cured on account of their unfaithfulness. Therefore He healed many of those who were brought, that is, all who had faith.

It goes on, «and cast out many devils.»

Pseudo-Augustine, Quaest. e Vet. et Nov. Test. 16: For the devils knew that He was the Christ, who had been promised by the Law: for they saw in Him all (p. 30) the signs which had been foretold by the Prophets; but they were ignorant of His divinity, as also were «their princes, for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.» (1Co 2,8)

Bede: For, Him whom the devil had known as a man, wearied by His forty days’ fast, without being able by tempting Him to prove whether He was the Son of God, he now by the power of His miracles understood or rather suspected to be the Son of God. The reason therefore why he persuaded the Jews to crucify Him, was not because he did not think that He was the Son of God, but because he did not foresee that he himself was to be condemned by Christ’s death.

Theophylact: Furthermore, the reason that He forbade the devils to speak, was to teach us not to believe them, even if they say true. For if once they find persons to believe them, they mingle truth with falsehood.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: And Luke does not contradict this, when he says, that «devils came out of many, crying out and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God:» (Lc 4,41) for he subjoins, «And He rebuking them, suffered them not to speak;» for Mark, who passes over many things for the sake of brevity, speaks about what happened subsequently to the abovementioned words.

Bede: Again, in a mystical sense, the setting of the sun signifies the passion of Him, who said, «As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.» (Jn 9,5) And when the sun was going down, more demoniacs and sick persons were healed than before: because He who living in the flesh for a time taught a few Jews, has transmitted the gifts of faith and health to all the Gentiles throughout the world.

Pseudo-Jerome: But the door of the kingdom, morally, is repentance and faith, which works health for various diseases; for divers are the vices with which the city of this world is sick.

[1] « On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
When it was evening, after sunset,
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.

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.
For this purpose have I come. ”So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.” (Mk 1.29 to 39).

[2] The miracle is for the service so we may serve others.  I read in a commentary that I really liked: the verb to serve (diakoneo) is the same that will express Jesus’ service of giving his life. This miracle, which for many is the first miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, tells us that this woman of whom we will never hear again, immediately entered into the logic that guides the life and the choices of Jesus: the gift of life! The encounter, the relationship is done in this way: God in Jesus visits us, heals our lives and makes us «free to serve.» It not so much to be acclaimed that Jesus makes a miracle, is not so much to be recognized as God: it is so that man doesn’t remain closed but opens to the brothers in a continued and free relationship of service.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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