In our Gospel today, the disciples come to Jesus the morning after a very successful day in their ministry. He had dramatically expelled a demon right in the middle of the synagogue and then spent the entire evening of the Sabbath working miracles and amazing exorcisms. The next morning, his disciples were obviously looking forward to another day of splendid performances. And so, when they awoke to find him gone from the house, and with a growing crowd of townspeople clamoring to see him, they were confused. A search party was organized but when they found him, alone in prayer on the mountaintop, and told him that everyone was looking for him, Jesus’ answer shocked them. He told them it was time to move on, that his mission was not to maximize popularity, but to preach the gospel to all of Israel. This was his mission from the Father, and the quest for earthly fame would not distract him from it.
Jesus is not a political figure looking to climb the ladder of success or gain high approval ratings in the media. He came as a servant, messenger and Saviour of the world. As the prophet Isaiah says: “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Is 53:5). Accordingly, in the Gospel passage, he heals a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue. From there he goes to Simon Peter’s house and heals his mother-in-law of her fever. Then, very early the next morning he escapes to a lonely place to pray. But before he could finish his morning prayers his disciples came to tell him that an even larger crowd has gathered with their sick and infirm and everyone was looking for him. You would expect Jesus to say, “Great, now we are in business. Now they are coming. Our strategy is working.” He does not organize “seed sowing” envelopes or ask for tithes or second collections. Instead he says no: “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” (Mark 1:38).
Jesus was absolutely committed to preaching the Good News. But, one may ask, what message is greater that healing the sick and restoring their dignity taken away by sickness and poverty? Isn’t that essentially what Jesus came for? Well, not exactly. He came to bring the Good News to the poor (Luke 4:18). This good news is both spiritual and material just as the human person is soul and body. But in the order of priority, the spiritual comes first, and we see this priority in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “Seek you first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Healings and miracles are very important, but they only serve to validate the preaching of the Gospel. What Jesus came to do, in other words, is to proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God, so that man might let God reign as king in his heart and in his life.
Much of the sickness, poverty and suffering in our world is traceable to the disharmony of sin that separates us from God and from one another. When this root cause is fixed, we find ourselves able to receive God’s abundant blessings in all areas of our lives, spiritual, physical, social and psychological. But to seek physical healing and material well-being without first making peace with God is to miss the point. It is putting the cart before the horse. It does not work. This is probably what the people of Capernaum tried to do with Jesus that morning. But he boycotts them and continues to other cities of Galilee to proclaim the message.
The big crowd that came looking for Jesus that morning went home disappointed. They did not find him. Why? Because they were looking for him for the wrong reasons. They were looking for Jesus simply to get what they wanted; they were not interested in what Jesus came to give. Not that Jesus is not interested in our material welfare. He is, but the spiritual must come first. Like the people of Capernaum, we come to church on Sunday looking for Jesus. We come with our various problems of soul and body. Thus, to avoid disappointments, the first thing to do is to forget our personal problems and seek the kingdom of God that Jesus came to proclaim, and then God Himself will see to all our other needs of soul and body.
As disciples of Jesus, we too are called to mission – to be men and women for others. We are called to preach! As St Paul makes clear in the Second Reading, preaching the Gospel is a duty that has been laid upon us. One reason so many people find it so hard to believe in Jesus or to follow him is because they don’t see our Christian virtues shining out. Every one of us is an advertisement for Christ so that people outside the Church can look at us to get an idea of what Christ is like. If we gossip, criticize, and talk trash just as much as everyone else; if we live pleasure-seeking, self-indulgent lives – getting drunk and indulging in immorality just like everyone else; if we look out only for our own interests instead of looking out for our neighbor; if we lie, cheat, cut others down, and manipulate, just like everyone else, well then, is it any wonder that we are not winning disciples for Christ?
But if they see us walking away from gossips and defending people’s reputations; if they see us living balanced, well-ordered and joyfully disciplined lives; if they see us as compassionate and forgiving, but yet firm in our moral commitments; if they see us trying to swim against the current of the corrupt, ego-centric culture of consumerism and debauchery; if they see us living holy, chaste and prayerful lives, then, in that case, they will surely be drawn towards Christ. Our actions speak so loudly that our voices are hardly ever heard. Therefore, as Jesus gives himself to us today in the Eucharist, let us beg his pardon for the times we have been counter-witnesses, and let us ask for his grace to become better advertisements for his Kingdom. Amen!