Over the years we have learned that living in the middle east, the culture was tribal and family centered. A person’s home town was like an anchor or stake that centered or protected a person in a world where a single or unattached person was seen to be in danger. We see today in the gospel and from the last few weeks, that Jesus has left Nazareth. He has encountered John the Baptist(and been baptized, but not in Mark’s gospel) and now we see Mark say the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. In Mark, there is kind of urgency for Jesus to get to the desert. It is as if in those forty days, Jesus was communing and preparing with a different family. Spiritually he was preparing his ministry, being attended by the angels and in his new family meeting Satan and what that entailed. Perhaps, his first encounter with Satan away from the protection of his earthly family. But with his time of preparation done and John having been arrested, Jesus went to Galilee and began to preach: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
As we ponder that today, I would like to say we all have busy schedules and not a whole lot of time for lent. But most of you have smart phone and tablets or computers and email. I would suggest for lent that you can get the daily Mass readings for lent in an email every day simply by signing up at the catholic bishops site on-line. It is free and you can read it where ever you read your email. In this way you can receive a thought each day as Easter approaches. The link is below.
As you might know, the middle east is very tribal and thus very family and community centered. In Jesus’ time, it also meant extended families. So in a village or town, there might be a large extended family. To declare someone unclean, was a banishment from community and led to a life of solitude and loneliness. The skin diseases mention, have come to be translated as leprosy. But in actuality it is not referring to the disease we call leprosy or Hansen’s disease. But the point of today’s gospel is that the leper actually went against the laws of Leviticus and approached Jesus. He approached and asked for healing. Jesus had pity on him and reached out and touched him and mindful of the law, told him to go and see the priests. Jesus’ touch was a healing of body and spirit. It was a welcome to return to his community, his family and friends. This, I think, makes clear that we are are not meant to be alone and pushed aside and be alone. As Christians we choose to be in a community and be welcomed into a social and spiritual life. The joy of the good news should have us reaching out to others.
Today’s gospel from Mark gives a slightly different account of Jesus’ call of his disciples. First we see that John the Baptist has been arrested, and also that Jesus has started his ministry. This means that the disciples had an awareness of him and possibly that is why they answered his invitation so readily. God’s call did not always come easy in Israel’s history. Many of the prophets only reluctantly answered God’s call. A prime example was Jonah in our first reading. But we see that in the end God got his way even with the reluctant. Jesus was preaching that it was time to repent and believe the good news. He had a message and it was new. But first a person must repent, turn around, change and hear the good news. Hearing the good news means attaching oneself to Jesus. That was the ultimate turn around, made first by Jesus’ disciples and passed on even to us today. Jesus’ call was to a way of life, to a lifestyle, to living together in a community he came to call a church. It entails a whole new way of life and worship, that Jesus began by fulfilling God’s plan that included even his dieing and his resurrection. The good question today is can we with all the interruptions and daily problems still commit ourselves fully to Christ as the First disciples, who left their Father and their boats and followed Jesus. Surely sometimes it is easy, but at other time it is difficult and challenging. But we must remember always we have Jesus and the Strength of his Cross to get us through whatever we face.
The readings today are about calling. First we heard the call of Samuel. Even the older prophet Eli did not realize God was calling until the third time and so Samuel answered on the fourth call. In the gospel, we see the call of the Apostles first inspired by John the Baptist pointing to the “Lamb of God” and the person of Jesus leading them to ask what he was doing. I say doing because where are you staying is exactly what they meant. They meant what are you about. In our own way we all have been called through our baptism by way of our parents. I also submit that in our lives, we have at times answered Christ’s call as we have lived out our life in the choices we have made, especially at key moments in our life. It is at those moments when we prayed, thought or ultimately opened our hearts to listen, to discern what was right, what was God’s call for me. That is the key to hear and listen to God’s word and how it affects us. I must say that sometimes that call says what we don’t want to hear, but ultimately listening and acting in accordance with that call usually brings us to a comfortable result, one that eases our life’s burdens. The hard part is discerning God’s intention especially if it entails a change in our life that we perceive as difficult. God calls many to serve and in various ways, Most of us will never be asked to travel to far away places, but in today’s world we are called to help and reach out to the starving and homeless of the world as best we can. We are asked to live and act toward others as Christ did. As a community we do that in many ways and I encourage our community to continue and listen as we begin this new year.