Homily for 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Brothers and Sisters, here we are still with Christ in Galilee, still near the beginnings of his public ministry. These are such vivid Gospels, but not just that. They are transparent too. We are in the lakeside town of Capernaum. We are being shown 24 hours of Jesus in action. We begin on the Sabbath. As per last week’s Gospel, he goes to the synagogue, Saturday morning. He takes part in the liturgy, he teaches, he encounters a man with an “unclean spirit” and sets him free. Then, still with his new companions, he leaves the synagogue and goes into the house of Simon and Andrew, there to spend the rest of the Sabbath. It wasn’t a day for travelling.  Here he shows his power again. Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. We are in a family house. Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up and the fever goes. She’s the first woman to be healed in the Gospel, in fact the first person to be cured of an illness in the Gospel. Indeed, she has her own mini-resurrection – “lifted up” by the hand of Jesus and then beginning immediately to “serve”, preparing a meal presumably.  The point isn’t that a woman’s work is never done; it’s that “serving” is a sign of spiritual health. It’s that she is being aligned with Jesus. He will be “lifted up” by the hand of the Father through his Resurrection and Ascension and will then begin to “serve” us, offering us time and again his Eucharistic food.

There are so many hints and suggestion in this reading. This is Peter’s house, the Church. It’s a sketch of the future Christian community.  Here is Christ. Here are disciples. Here’s someone restored to health, and service – diakonia – going on.  It should feel familiar. Then the sun sets, evening falls. In the Jewish understanding, therefore, the Sabbath is over, people are free to move and the first day of the week has begun. We’re moving into Sunday. And the people start to “crowd round” the door; literally, they “synagogue” around the door. It’s a form of the same word. This is what marked out the early Christians: Jews gathered on a Saturday, Christians on a Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. Again, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the future is shaping up. And after all the healing, what happens next? “And rising very early in the morning…” There’s another echo surely.

So, these Gospels stories are not limited to “once upon a time”, what they describe as happening in Capernaum one day. They embrace us and now as well.

Let’s consider who comes to Peter’s door. It’s the sick and the troubled. So far, on this day, Jesus has cast out one demon and cured one ill person. But somehow the social media have been busy and the whole town knows: there’s healing and deliverance here. The sick and those troubled by demons gather round. The Church is happening, and it’s not made of the elect and the squeaky-clean and the impeccable. It’s a crowd of people short on health and wracked by their demons. Or, as the Holy Father likes to say, a field-hospital in the middle of a war. These are the types in and around the house of Peter – think of the crowds that gather in St Peter’s square, in front of his basilica. This is who we are: sinners in need of forgiveness, pieces of chaos on two legs wondering if we’ll ever fall into shape, troubled, not quite right in ourselves, but mysteriously drawn, waiting for Jesus to come and put us right by his touch.

Let’s jump briefly to Job. In the 1st reading, he’s moaning on full throttle, and not just for Scotland, as it were. He’s moaning for us all. It would be strange if there were no times in our lives when we didn’t feel like him. He wants to throw the gift of his life back in God’s face. But the Bible, God’s word, is large enough to contain what seems so ungodly, so despairing a word. And as with the Bible, so with Christ. In the Gospel today, Jesus lets a wave of human sin and sorrow wash over him, as it washed over Job and flows over the world. “Risen, I think, ‘How slowly evening comes!’”, says Job. “Restlessly I fret till twilight falls.”  Strange, it should be “twilight” and “evening” Job mentions. That’s when Jesus was healing in Capernaum. It’s just before then he will later be taken down from the Cross, and it’s in the dark hour before the dawn that he will rise. Jesus goes into our dark and then beyond. “He heals the broken-hearted, he binds up all their wounds.” Who are we? What is the Church? Just the portion of wounded, broken-hearted humanity that’s set their hope on Christ. Just a Galilee, a Capernaum, on whom it’s gradually dawning that help is at hand.

I must move on, says Jesus, and preach elsewhere, “for that’s what I came for.” And there’s Paul, in the 2nd reading, twenty years later, saying, “Woe to me if I don’t preach”. Jesus preached the coming of the kingdom, the reign, of God, and Paul, active after the first Easter, preaches the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s all one. And it’s what makes the difference. Life is what it is and we are what we are, all at once amazing creatures and poor wee things. Tell us about it! But a word has gone forth, a light has shone in Galilee, a tomb is empty, a Sunday has broken, Peter’s house is open – and we shall live.

(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen)


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