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Fourth Sunday In Ordinary Times (4B), Jan. 29, 2012
By Fr. James Gilhooley
A man was crippled. Christians visited her. They chatted with her. Then it was time to go. They said, "We will pray for you." The woman replied, "I can do my own praying. But if you want to help me, you can wash the dishes and take out the dog." Mark's Gospel describes not only the opening of the teaching ministry of the Nazarene but also His first recorded miracle. This is a a Gospel double-header. Mark gives two Jesus tales for the price of one.
Incidentally, Newsweek reveals that more than 80% of people are convinced God performs miracles and about half are convinced they have seen divine intervention in their lives.
The clever plan of the Master was to get as many invitations as possible to speak in Galilean synagogues. He wanted to get His message out on the wires a.s.a.p. He was a master of marketing. Mark's Gospel tells us He preached in synagogues seventeen different times. We are talking about Operation Saturation. The first thirty years of His life Jesus worked with His rough carpenter hands. Now He was about to work with His golden tongue.
Mark does not tell us what Jesus taught. We cannot fault him. The blame is Peter's. He was an eyewitness or, better, an earwitness. It was he who dictated his memoirs to Mark, who may have been his son. Remember Peter was married. And possibly Peter could neither read nor write.
Peter does tell us, however, through Mark that Jesus upset people's minds with His teaching. Whatever the message was, it staggered His audience. It was not the usual canned material that they were so often subjected to. His words must have danced across the airwaves like blazing fragmentation grenades.
One hint of an explanation is found in Mark's words: "He taught with personal authority and not as the Scribes taught." The scholars of the day would preface their remarks with such lines as "The rabbi says..." or "It is alleged..." or "It is commonly taught..."
That was not the Nazarene's style. He did not tell His audience what others were teaching. Rather, He tackled questions with authority. One did not hear Him say, "It may be..." but rather "Amen, amen I say to you..." He required no credentials beyond Himself.
If one does not subscribe to a divine Jesus, one must put Him down as a most arrogant person. Note that His audience did not put Him down as such. They felt chills run up their spines as He spoke. They sensed they were in God's presence.
At this point, Mark changes directions. The Christ is half way into His talk and a sick fellow rudely interrupts. He has no time for Jesus' teachings. He wants his health returned.
Check out the Teacher's reaction. He does not lay the man out for bad manners. He does not say, "See me after my lecture." Nor does He say, "Tell your symptoms to my disciples." He stops His talk in mid-sentence, perhaps mid-syllable, and cures the sick fellow. What message is Mark telegraphing to us?
Firstly, the Master is backing up His message with divine power. He is, as college students say, a Hot Ten. Secondly He reveals He is as much interested in people's bodies as their souls. He is concerned with the whole person. Check the Gospels. You'll never find Jesus refusing a sick person a cure.
The Lord Jesus is endorsing the dictum that reads, "Before you can put grace into people's souls, you must first put food into their stomachs." Incidentally, there are thirty million hungry people in the US alone. Many million are children.
Many Christians forget this point. Theirs is a telephone booth Theology or, better, Meology. There is room in that tight kiosk for only God and themselves. Other people, especially hungry or sick ones, are on their own. No wonder George Bernard Shaw said, "Beware the person whose God is only in the skies."
If your Christ is only in the skies, think again. "If you haven't any charity in your heart," quipped Bob Hope, "you have the worst kind of heart trouble." Jesus was not afraid of getting involved in the nitty gritty of people's lives. He worked with His hands more often than He spoke with His mouth.
Mark is saying to us, "If you want to measure what kind of a Christian you are, count up what you did for the crippled man today. You are either a Bible or a libel." Each of us should be God's letter of introduction to a despairing world.
Charles Dickens wrote, "No one is useless in the world who lightens the burden of it for someone else.