Breath of the Spirit Reflection: Community Healing
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February 7th, 2021: Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Job 7:1-4, 6-7
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
Reflection from Ann Penick
The readings for this Sunday, carry a somber tone, even though the Gospel speaks of the healings and miracles Jesus performed. As I thought about these readings and the somber tone, I also was reminded that Sunday, February 7th is a week and a half away from the beginning of the Church’s Lenten Season. The time of Lent—a time of prayer, atonement, reflection, and personal as well as spiritual discipline and renewal. Maybe these readings were chosen for this Sunday as a preparation for the upcoming Season of Lent.
In the reading from the 7th chapter of the Book of Job, Job turns from talking with his friends, to talking directly to God as he continually laments. Job compares his present suffering to the futile, discouraging work of a slave or a person hired to do a specific job they may be loathe to do. The suffering in the world challenges us with so many questions. The entire Book of Job is about suffering as we read of one person’s suffering, theineffective responses of his friends, and his struggle for faith and understanding.
This struggle mirrors our own experiences. If we truly open our hearts and minds to the Book of Job—and that might be difficult; I know it is for me—this book of the Hebrew Scriptures can reach into our own situations, involving our own needs.
In the verses from 1st Corinthians 9, Paul has a personal motive in his decision to waive his right to support from the Corinthian faithful. Paul has a right to be supported, as the 12 Apostles had been by the fledgling churches that were being established in these early years of Christianity. But Paul was concerned how it would look to those who still did not believe and to the new converts to the way of Messiah Jesus if he accepted financial and other types of support for his preaching. It might look like he wasn’t doing it for them, but only for himself. So, Paul chose to earn a living through his own efforts believing the Corinthian faith community could see and learn what it meant to give of oneself for the sake of others and not expect personal gain. He saw this as a gain for Christ and Christ’s mission.
The Gospel of Mark segment proclaimed today is an account of a single day in the ministry of Jesus. In the Capernaum synagogue Jesus healed a man with an unclean spirit by “rebuking” the spirit and calling it out of him. The content of the teachings in this account are not mentioned, but the effect on the people who witnessed the healing miracles are astonishment and amazement. Jesus is being talked about everywhere in that community. All kinds of Capernaum’s sick were at Jesus’ door for help and healing.
Then came Simon Peter’s mother-in-law with a serious fever. A fever in those biblical times was no small thing; it was debilitating and often a symptom of a physical condition that would lead to death. Mark doesn’t tell us about the fever —how long it had been going on, its intensity, or even its cause—but we know a beloved, valued family member was unable to be up and interacting with others.
I’ll admit, when I read the passage in this Gospel reading that when the fevermleft Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, “she then got up and waited on them,” it gave me pause because of my 21st century passion working for value of and justice for all women. So I looked very closely at the cultural context of this healing and what it meant to her.
A healing means new strength is imparted to those laid out by physical or mental illness—or even death. Healing means they rise up again to take their place in the world. In the biblical world, illness was a heavy social cost: not only would a person be unable to earn a living or contribute to the well-being of a household, but their ability to take their proper role in the community, to be honored as a valuable member of a household, a town or a village, would also be taken from them.
Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is an example of this. It was her honor to be able to show hospitality to guests in her home. Her illness cut her off from doing that which integrated her into her community. Jesus restored her to her social rank and brought her back by healing her of that fever. It is very important to see that healing here is about restoration to the community and restoration of one’s role in that community—as well as restoration to life. If you, or someone you know who has been seriously ill and then restored to health, you understand the joy of once again being a participant in the customary processes of community life.
When this reading comes to a close, it seems Jesus suddenly rejects the call to heal and insists on moving on to proclaim the message throughout the other villages and towns of Galilee. The message: to share the coming of God’s kingdom/kindom through healing, teaching, and preaching. To bring the foretaste of the realm of God, even as Jesus promises it is “drawing near.”
The coming of God’s Kingdom IS Good News! One could imagine God’s reign coming as a reign of terror. Humans have plenty of experience with powerful royalty and dictators doing terrible things to those over whom they reign. We only have to look in our own backyard for a recent example of this. Will God be like that? Will it be swift judgement and punishment for those who don’t get on board? NO! Jesus shows over and over again, that God’s power SERVES all people. From the very beginning of the ministry, Jesus comes with compassion and justice for all.
May the coming Season of Lent be a time for you to be renew your faith, restore your faith, and embrace compassion and justice for all in your life.
Ann Penick is originally from the Chicago area. She and her husband, Jim, live in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Ann was ordained a priest with Roman Catholic Womenpriests in 2011. Ann has been serving the faith communities of Dignity Washington and Northern Virginia Dignity as one of their presiders since 2017. She also serves as one of the board members of DignityUSA. In addition, she has been pastoring a faith community of young families in Washington, DC since 2013.