The pace of the opening chapters of the Gospel of Mark is somewhat frenetic. Unfortunately, because we read the Gospel in short passages, one each Sunday, the frenzied pace with which St. Mark portrays the first days of Jesus’ ministry can get lost in our calendar approach to the Gospel. To be sure, the first chapter of the Gospel is spread out over four Sundays this year.
In the course of those Sundays, Jesus chooses his first four disciples, expels a demon from a man at the local synagogue, restores Peter’s mother-in-law to her rightful place in the family, cures many others and expels more evil spirits that evening, and, as we will hear next Sunday, cures a leper. That’s just the first chapter. As we listen to this catalogue of wonders that Jesus performs, I am sure that not a few of us wish that Jesus was still around to continue curing and healing and expelling demons. Wouldn’t that be something!
Let us ask the question, however, why does St. Mark fill the first pages of his Gospel with such stories?
If we look at this Gospel as a whole, one cannot help but notice that a full third of the words that St. Mark writes concern the last days of Jesus’ life, the events that we call the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. This was, in fact, the starting place for all of the Gospels. As the years after Jesus returned to the Father unfolded and people began to realize that his return was not going to be as soon as was originally thought, some of their number realized that they should write down for later generations the events that they considered the basis of our faith.
In order to help us to understand what Jesus did for us by dying on a cross and then rising from the dead, St. Mark begins by writing about all the healings that Jesus effected in the early days of his ministry. The truth of the matter is that Jesus has healed all of us. Before Jesus, all of humanity was in need of healing because of sin. The healing miracles which fill the pages of the Gospel are but a prelude to the healing action of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The first reading from the Book of Job paints a very dramatic picture of the human condition before Jesus came to be one of us. He uses three different images to convey his plight. He thinks of life as hard military service which makes terrible demands on an individual and jeopardizes one’s very existence. He also says that it is like the quandary of a hireling who is always dependent upon others and has little or nothing to say about the conditions of his work. Finally, he compares his situation to that of a slave who has nothing to say about anything and is totally dependent upon his master. The sacred writer is simply saying that for the people who lived before Jesus, there is no hope for something better.
Because Jesus died for us and rose from the dead, our human lives are radically changed. We have been saved. We have been healed. Our demons have been expelled. Yes, human life can still be a dismal situation as we see reported in our news media every day. Sin still seems to have the upper hand. However, for people of faith, we can sing with the psalmist that God heals our broken hearts and binds up all our wounds. There is a far better life in store for those who believe.
When St. Paul realized what Jesus had done, not only in his own life but in the lives of all believers, his life was completely turned around. He compares his situation before his conversion as the life of a blind man. Now he can see. So convinced is he of the fact that Jesus has saved him, that he feels compelled to preach the Good News to all. He has no choice. He must share this message with all. He willingly gives up his former way of life, even his livelihood, in order to bring the message of the Gospel to all.
The end of the Gospel passage that we read today condenses the entire ministry of Jesus into preaching and driving out demons. These two works are actually closely connected. The principle message of Jesus’ preaching is the establishment of the Reign of God. In order for that reign to take root and to thrive, evil must be dislodged and cast out. Driving out demons is a matter of confronting the power of evil with the power of the Gospel. That task remains. All of us, like St. Paul, are called to announce the Good News and to confront the evil of our day with the power of the Resurrection which can heal us and bind up our wounds if we allow it to do so. To remain silent is simply not an option. As disciples of Jesus, the task has been handed on to us.
Today we celebrate the Eucharist, our source of strength and sustenance for the task that is ours by virtue of our Baptism – the task of healing broken hearts and binding up wounds!
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator