The Preacher
  • Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Fifth Sunday of Epiphany

Isa. 40:21-31 • Ps. 147:1-12, 21c
1 Cor. 9:16-23 • Mark 1:29-39

Religious studies, however compelling and intriguing to a few, is not the subject of Christian preaching. The preacher is not a “disinterested” academician, though he is, to be sure, often found among books. He preaches under a divine necessity: the One True God.

This necessity is something broad and deep, reaching backward and into the mystery of creation itself: “He counts the number of the stars and calls them all by their names. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; there is no limit to his wisdom” (Ps. 147:4,5). Encouraging the Babylonian exiles, Isaiah must speak without attenuation or weakness or doubt. So he insists that their God is greater than the present political regime. “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers” (Isa. 40:22).

As for the rulers of the present age: “Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble” (Isa. 40:24). Again, with confidence and vigor Isaiah says the God who called into being every particle of creation will be faithful in delivering those who wait upon him: “He does not faint or grow weary…. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless” (28,29). Isaiah is preaching a liberation they have not yet seen. He is, therefore, preaching hope.

St. Paul speaks of the necessity of his preaching, such that he exercises a demanding adaptive skill still essential to Christian priesthood and all Christian witness. “I have be­come all things to all people, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). He stretches every fiber of his being in reaching out to a diverse humanity, and though doing this work at great personal cost, he accepts that he will reach some, not all. Urgent though the message is, he is humble and accepts failure.

What precisely is the urgent message? Consider the following compendium: A glorious creation and beautiful humanity held in being from moment to moment by the will of God has, nonetheless, buried within it a seed of destruction. God would not leave us languishing, and in the fullness of time sent his Son to save us. He has lifted us up, through the death and resurrection of his Son, to a new supernatural life and has filled us with his holy and life-giving Spirit.

St. Mark shows this in action. Employing his favorite adverb, immediately, and making ample use of the narrative present as well as present participles, Jesus seems to be always in quick and rapid motion. Immediately leaving the synagogue they tell him about the mother-in-law of Simon, who is suffering from a fever. Jesus heals her, and then, in the evening, as a crowd gathers about the door, each suffering from a rather modern-sounding ailment (languishing), they are healed by Jesus. Jesus retreats briefly, then Simon and the others find him, and Jesus agrees to move on: “Let us go elsewhere to other cities that I may preach there; this in fact is why I have arrived” (Mk. 1:38). Strikingly, Jesus does not mention healing, but rather teaching, for the healings are a parabolic demonstration of the kingdom he announces. God is restoring all things. The preacher may be lighthearted, he may show a wide and happy smile, but let the preacher be serious. Speak of life and death.

Look It Up
Read Isa. 40:31. Although we have our nagging ailments, let us plan to walk, run, and fly.

Think About It
Before the fever left her, Jesus held her hand.

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