Christ Preaching in Galilee
Familiarity with these verses, and those immediately preceding, can mask the sheer impact of Jesus’ visit to Capernaum at the start of his ministry. Here is power at work – not power as the world understands it, for worldly power often becomes an exercise in control – but the power of liberation, liberation from the shackles, often unseen by others, that imprison and can ultimately destroy. The shackles of illness, guilt for past failings, of lives broken by the pressures of everyday living. And time is limited, to preach the good news that a new age is dawning, where in the words of that much loved hymn by Charles Wesley [our] chains fell off, [our] heart was free, and to demonstrate in acts of healing God’s love at work in the lives of ordinary people. Jesus comes to the people of Capernaum two thousand years ago, and to us and our world today as the answer to the deepest human needs, the need to be valued and loved, the need to be accepted – warts and all – in the words of Oliver Cromwell.
How did the little local community of Capernaum react to the presence of Jesus, this remarkable man in their midst? How would you feel, to witness His power to heal and make whole? Here is love incarnate in action. Here is a new Creation coming into being before our eyes. Here is hope, hope for ourselves, our loved ones, our world, as we see God at work among his people. You can be sure that there were scenes of great celebration in Capernaum that night; for through the ages Jewish people have shown that they know how to party! But this is only part of the story. Many of us find our refuge from the pressures of daily living in yet more activity – the Health Club beckons (!) – but that is not Jesus’ way.
After a day of preaching and healing, He must find time to recover, both physically and spiritually. So, Mark tells us that in the morning, while it was still very dark, He got up and went out to a deserted place, and there He prayed.
After the previous day’s exertions, Jesus seeks to draw on God’s strength and power through prayer, and thus remain grounded in God’s will. As we might say, He needs quality time with His heavenly Father. And for Him, that means being quiet, means being open to God. We all lead busy lives, lives where, by the grace of God, in our own way we too can show God’s message of love and healing to those whom we meet; but if Our Lord needed quality God time, then surely you and I do as well.
But in a way all too familiar to us, Jesus’ quality time is soon interrupted, and Peter and his companions search frantically for the elusive healer. The Greek word used here has the sense of being pursued, almost hunted down. When Peter finally tracks Jesus down to tell Him of his instant fame, he assumes he is the bringer of good news, but Jesus’ reply is unexpected. Whereas most people would return to the place of their success, Jesus declares that He and His disciples are to set off immediately in the opposite direction. Why? Not out of obstinacy, nor false modesty, but because Jesus, totally attuned to his Father’s will, knows that He must go forward, not back, that there is a whole world needing to hear the good news, needing to be made whole. Jesus is not a performer of magic tricks, He is the Messiah. And time is short – Jesus is a man in a hurry. He is not in the business of instant satisfaction, but of converting, of healing broken lives, of making new life out of old, of helping people to build their house of faith on rock, not on sand.
There are many lessons here for us. We too are prone to be diverted, we too need to be attuned to God’s will for our lives, we too need to remain resolutely focused. Yes, it can be hard to resist responding to every need that comes our way, especially when this can give us the immediate reward of being wanted and appreciated. Yet this may be a delusion, and we need to walk closely with God, to ensure that we are not being led astray.
A life in which we balance activity and prayer, words and silence, will set us free to serve God more faithfully, and to mirror more faithfully the life and ministry of our blessed Lord who never sought the adulation of men and women but rather gave Himself to further the work of the Kingdom. As we might say, like Jesus, we need to keep our eyes on the big picture, and the big picture is the Kingdom – in the midst of the ordinary, the humdrum, the stress, the downright boring even, we are called not to please ourselves and others, but to commit ourselves to the service of God’s kingdom, for one of the greatest snares in the Christian life is when we tell ourselves, or others tell us, how well we are doing. A story is told of a preacher who, standing at the church door after the Service, was told by admiring worshippers that he had preached an excellent sermon. And his reply? “Yes, the devil told me that as I came down from the pulpit!”
Fr. Edward Bryant