by Father William A. McLaughlin,
THE UNITED STATES is currently commemorating the 150th anniversary of its Civil War. Americans have reflected on the causes of this national struggle. Some historians place the blame squarely on the issue of slavery which was tearing at the national fabric. So many years since the abolition of slavery in the United States, it is difficult for us to imagine what slavery was like. Imagine being possessed by another human being – their property. Imagine never being free for our whole lifetime.
We may begin to sense the hopelessness expressed by Job in today’s first reading. Man’s days are like those of a slave: filled with drudgery, passing away “swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,” and never his own. Job alludes to the slavery to sin which had been the universal human condition since the time of Adam and Eve’s ancient fall.
Foreshadowing of Salvation
The Psalmist expresses the new hope of the Judeans after their long exile as slaves of the Babylonians. Following their defeat, the survivors of Judah had been enslaved in Babylon, never knowing when deliverance would come. They had trusted in God for salvation. Now, they praise the Lord who has sustained them, bound their wounds, healed their broken hearts, and restored them to their land. God has saved His people from this episode of slavery. It is a foreshadowing of salvation for all human beings from their slavery to sin.
We continue our reading of St. Mark’s Gospel with today’s passage about the authority and power of Jesus to free people from the slavery of illness and possession by demons. We have all experienced the drudgery of illness, that sense of not feeling like ourselves. When sickness comes, we can feel health leave us. After the sickness runs its course, we begin to feel well again. Most of us cannot imagine the condition of those for whom health is draining away with no hope of recovery.
So, too, for those who have lost their freedom from compulsive disorders. Some recover by psychological treatment. Others succumb to a debilitating condition in which they seem to have lost themselves. It is to a world enslaved by illness of body and mind that the Messiah comes to give healing which is the sign of the kingdom of God.
St. Mark relates how Jesus cures many people of their diseases and frees many who are possessed by demons. Yet, such ministry could distract Him from His central purpose of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. He goes off to an isolated place to pray and re-center Himself, only to be found by His disciples and told,
“Everyone is looking for you.”
Indeed, everyone needs the healing freedom that the kingdom brings. He instructs them that He must go on to other places and continue to preach of the kingdom.
He explains to the disciples, “For this purpose have I come.”
Signs of the Kingdom
The particular healings and exorcisms of Jesus are not ends in themselves. The mission of the Messiah is not to heal every particular illness that He encounters. His mission is to proclaim the kingdom of God, a new order of relationship between God and human beings. God is in the world, and His kingdom is at hand. The particular healings in the Gospels are, therefore, signs of the kingdom.
Healing Is Freedom From Sin
They do point, though, to a universal healing that has begun. This healing is freedom from sin. The healing that the kingdom brings is a reintegration of human being – of body, mind and spirit. The kingdom gives us the hope of salvation from the slavery of sin. It gives us healing from the effects of sin.
Jesus’ healing enables Simon’s mother-in-law to rise from her sickbed and serve in freedom. His healing enables us to rise, through baptism, from our ancient sickbed of sin with freedom to serve the kingdom of God.
Like Paul, we are now free to make ourselves slaves in service to all. As preaching the kingdom of God is central to the ministry of Jesus, so proclaiming the kingdom by all that we say and do should be central to our lives as Christians.
Freed by Jesus from the slavery of sin, we can now freely assume the slavery of discipleship.Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Job 7: 1-4, 6-7
Psalm 147: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 Corinthians 9: 16-19, 22-23
Mark 1: 29-39
Father William A. McLaughlin, administrator of St. Fidelis parish, College Point, is an adjunct professor of theology at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and teaches in the diocesan Pastoral Institute.