And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, and they found him and said to him, “Every one is searching for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.”
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In our readings from the Gospel of Mark for both last week and this week, we have found Jesus performing two particular kinds of ministry, two different actions. Last Sunday, “he entered the synagogue and taught” and while he was at it, “there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit,” whom Jesus promptly healed by casting out the unclean spirit. Jesus both taught the people and cast out a demon: his two kinds of ministry can thus be categorized as preaching and healing. And, considered along with our Gospel reading today, these texts give us the opportunity to consider how these two acts of Christ’s ministry relate to each other. Are both preaching and healing of equal importance or is one of them a higher priority than the other? And once we answer that question, how should the answer affect our own understanding of the Christian life?
Turning to our Gospel reading this morning, which picks up where last week’s reading left off, we find an extension of the same episode. “And immediately he left the synagogue” -- the synagogue where he had just cast out the unclean spirit -- “and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.” Once there, Jesus finds Simon’s mother-in-law sick with a fever and takes her by the hand to lift her up, thereby casting out the fever from her and healing her immediately. Note the parallel between the Gospel readings of the past two weeks: a spiritual affliction of an unclean spirit and a physical affliction of a fever are both cast out of those who are suffering by Jesus’ miraculous power of healing.
But, while Jesus entered the synagogue with the primary intention of preaching, and only healed the man with the unclean spirit when it made itself known, in today’s text, Jesus enters Simon’s home and begins with an act of healing. By now, the word has gotten around town that a holy man is among them and, accordingly:
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons….
It appears that Jesus’ ministry of healing has largely taken over his ministry of preaching, at least in the priorities of the people. What is most interesting and relevant about Jesus is his ability to heal those who are diseased and possessed with demons. And who could blame them? These are the kinds of urgent needs that all human beings suffer from; being creatures of both body and soul, our afflictions likewise take on both physical and spiritual dimensions. These afflictions directly affect our lives and inhibit our ability to flourish as we desire. So it makes sense that the people would gravitate to Jesus mainly because of the prospect of being healed by him.
But early the next morning, “a great while before day,” Jesus departs to a “lonely place” by himself to pray. “And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Every one is searching for you.’” Despite his numerous acts of healing the night before, the people are still desperate for his healing. But Jesus’ response to the disciples is striking: “And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” On the surface, it looks like Jesus has decided that he has healed enough in this town and it’s time to move on -- and not just so that he can heal people elsewhere, but rather that he “may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” And while this is not explicit in this particular text, we know from elsewhere in the Gospels that Jesus criticizes the crowds for only wanting him to solve their immediate problems: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves,” Jesus says (John 6:26). Jesus is insisting on a certain order of priority in his ministry: preaching is his main objective, to which healing is secondary.
So Jesus’ primary reason for coming into the world is that “He might publish the truth” , for as he says in John’s Gospel, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). Now, the truth to which Christ bore witness was ultimately just God, for God is Truth. Jesus didn’t come primarily to give us a message about the truth -- like a mail carrier who brings us a letter -- but rather to reveal the truth itself. As Thomas Aquinas said, Christ came into the world “to make His Godhead known through His human nature” . It is his humanity itself, his very person, that makes the God who is Truth known to us. In a sense, therefore, we could say that Jesus bears witness to the truth simply by being in the world, before he even preaches a single word. Jesus himself is the “content” of the truth because he is himself the revelation of God in the world. All of the preaching and all of the miracles he performs on earth refer back to and confirm the truth he represents in and of himself. But even though both his preaching and his miracles refer back to the truth of who Jesus is, his preaching is still superior to his miracles -- “for that is why I came out.”
This priority of Christ’s ministry of preaching to his ministry of healing has profound implications for the Christian life that we live day to day. It’s very easy for us to participate in the Church or other religious activities because of certain practical benefits that they provide us. There’s the fellowship that we enjoy in the church, for instance, and the support that such fellowship provides when we fall on hard times. Or maybe you’re more the philanthropic type and are thus inclined to participate in Christianity because of the work we do to love our neighbors and to care for those who suffer. And I want to insist that none of these aspects of Christianity are insignificant or unimportant. But like those who “labor for the food which perishes,” to reconfigure Christianity in terms of its this-worldly benefits is to reduce Christianity to just one more social function among others. Which implicitly detaches the practical ministry of Jesus from the truth he revealed and to which his ministry bore witness. After all, Jesus doesn’t have to be the Son of God incarnate to miraculously heal or feed people -- indeed, we find such miracles being performed by various prophets in the Old Testament. So for us to neglect either the preaching of Christ and seek him instead because we’ve “eaten our fill of the loaves” of his earthly benefits is in fact to neglect Jesus altogether.
This is where we can see the deep significance of that little note in our Gospel today which says that Jesus woke up early in the morning to go out to a lonely place and pray. Jesus himself prioritizes the solitude of his prayer to the earthly demands of his ministry. Which is something that we are to imitate ourselves. As the Son of God, Jesus maintains perfect intimacy with God the Father for all eternity; he became incarnate so that he could continue in that intimacy as a human being, in order that we too could be adopted into that intimacy as human beings ourselves. Jesus “came out” to preach the Gospel because the Gospel he preached is simply that such adoption is now possible in him. He testifies to who he is so that we can become like he is. Only God can make us like he is by the gift of his grace, but we grow into that gift by laboring “for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you” (John 6:27). We seek this food which endures to eternal life most directly by regularly partaking of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar; for the Eucharist is this food which the Son of Man gives to us.
But indirectly, we labor this food that endures by imitating the solitude and prayer of our Lord. For it is only from such prayer that we receive the graces necessary to perform Christ’s ministry of healing in the world. Being comes before doing, in other words; we must grow in the knowledge of who Christ is and thus of who we are in Christ in order to do the works which Christ has prepared for us to walk in. So take a cue from our Lord’s preaching: come and receive “the bread of God… which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). And then, “in the morning,” sometime this week, rise and go to a lonely place and pray. Meditate on who you are in Christ, just as Christ meditated on who he was in his perfect fellowship with the Father. For that is why you came out (of the waters of baptism), when you were born again into the newness of the life of Christ. Amen.