Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015:

First Reading: Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm: Psalm 147:1-12, 21c (Psalm 147:1-11, 20c NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39

Again we see Jesus early in his ministry, which at this point, seems to consist of healing and casting out demons. The issue of rest, or lack of it, speaks to me in the Gospel this week.

Notice that Jesus heals Simon's mother-in-law--and what is the first thing that she does? She gets up and serves them. Maybe she shows the appropriate response: what to do with a miraculous healing? Why, cook dinner, of course. But the story reminds me of many female friends I have who will get up from their sickbeds, even when they're burning with fever, to do things for the family, like cooking dinner or doing the laundry. What's behind this busyness?

Also this story faintly foreshadows the story of Mary and Martha. Martha can't stop her frantic rushing around, getting the meal ready. Mary takes time out of daily tasks to listen to Jesus.

Look at Jesus, later in the chapter. He's been on a whirlwind tour of preaching and healing. He gets up early in the morning, "a great while before day" (verse 35), and he retreats. He goes to a lonely place.

It's getting harder and harder to find lonely places. In graduate school, I used to get up at 4 in the morning to get some writing done--it was wonderful, because all the stores were closed at that hour, everyone slept, and because we couldn’t afford cable, there was nothing on TV--no distractions, in other words. I still often get up early to enjoy the lack of distraction.

We could learn a lot from Jesus--turn off the TV, don't answer the phone, disconnect from the Internet, stop our busy chasing after we don't even know what anymore. In short, we need to go to a lonely place.

Notice, too, that Jesus doesn't just flop on a rock and zone out. Jesus spends his down time praying. He uses this Sabbath Time to get in touch with God. We daydream about a lot of things to recharge our batteries: trips to a spa, a super vacation, early retirement. But the way Jesus shows us is simplicity incarnate.

God calls us to a servant's destiny. We are put on earth to be of service to others, doing the same things that Jesus did: preaching, feeding, teaching, healing. People who scoff at the idea of service often fail to understand what wonderful community can be formed during these times of service. Through our service and community building, we become more connected, which heals us—and the world—in all sorts of ways.

But God doesn't expect us to do these things without periods of rest. We need times of retreat, even if we can only schedule short times. We need times of prayer. We need time to listen for God, because the cries of the needy can drown out the still, small voice of God. We need time to refresh, and the easiest way to renew ourselves for the tasks ahead is to pray. The world, with all its aching yearning, will still be there after we emerge from our time of retreat.

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