Sunday, 8 February 2009

Strength of purpose

An address given at Templederry and Killodiernan on 8th February 2009, the 3rd Sunday before Lent.

I'm very struck by how much pressure Jesus could absorb in his ministry!

He never turned anyone away, he always responded when someone needed him, whatever time of the day or night it was. His strength of purpose was quite amazing. This is perfectly illustrated by Mark’s account in today’s NT reading (Mark 1:29-39).

Ruins of the C4th Synagogue at Capernaum, under which archeologists think that of Jesus's time may lie

Jesus had just been to the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath. No doubt the leader of the synagogue had invited him to expound the Jewish scriptures, as was the custom for a visiting Rabbi. The congregation ‘were astounded at his teaching’, we are told, ‘for he taught them as one having authority’. Then he was heckled by ‘a man with an unclean spirit’, which Jesus cast out – I suppose the man was ranting and disruptive because he suffered a mental illness.

After all that, you would think that Jesus would want to relax. I certainly do when I’ve been leading services on a Sunday! But no, when he leaves the synagogue and goes to Simon Peter’s house, he finds Simon’s mother-in-law ill in bed. She needs him, and he has to respond; which he does by curing her fever. And that evening, more people come crowding to the house, bringing with them others who are sick or possessed by demons. Jesus is still needed and he must respond as he always does, late into the night.

And so it continued, throughout Jesus’s ministry.

Perhaps Jesus was one of those rare people who can get by on very little sleep.

If so, he wasn't a bit like me - I need my full 8 hours!

Mark tells us that Jesus was up again early, while it was still dark, to go out by himself to pray. I feel sure he needed to pray. Private prayer is a way to recharge your batteries, to digest your experiences, to relieve the weight of them, so that you can move forward refreshed into the future. We often read in the Gospels how Jesus spent time alone in prayer, in the company of his loving father God, whenever he could.

Most of us would probably benefit by following his example. Many of us have lost the habit of daily prayer, I think, and find it hard to do. The next time you find yourself awake with your mind racing in the middle of the night, why not spend a little time in prayer, perhaps just saying the Lord’s Prayer to yourself, or the 23rd Psalm, or remembering other well loved prayers? If you're anything like me, you will probably drop off in no time - and you might be surprised how refreshed you are when you wake up again!

Jesus knew his Hebrew scriptures very well. Quite likely he knew by heart Isaiah's beautiful poem, part of which was today’s 1st reading (Isaiah 40:21-31). He surely knew that:

those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Perhaps it was as he prayed that Jesus found the strength to take his mission on to the next level.

Mark records that when Simon and the others found Jesus they chided him saying ‘Everyone is searching for you’. By then Jesus's mind was made up. ‘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’, he said. And that is what he did – more crowds, more teaching, more healing, an unrelenting pressure, culminating in Jerusalem and the cross.

What was this message he proclaims? Earlier in his Gospel Mark summarises it in these words: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.’ Mark has rather compressed Jesus’s message, but this is how I understand it:
Jesus knows that the time is right for his great mission, which is to lead every one of us into the kingdom of God. In other words, his mission is to show us all how to be the men and women that God wants us to be. It is no less than the salvation of humanity.

What prevents us from being the people God wants us to be? We are all created in God’s image and in our heart of hearts we can all tell right from wrong – in other words we are souls with consciences. But we all know only too well - it is a matter of observation, if we are honest with ourselves - that we continually fail to live up to God’s standards. In other words we sin, and that cuts us off from God’s kingdom.

Jesus teaches us that God loves us, every one of us, as a father loves his children. But more than that Jesus teaches us that like a loving father, God will forgive our sins and allow us to enter his kingdom. All we have to do is to acknowledge them and repent – of course we have to really mean it, we must truly repent! It is this message of God’s loving-kindness that Jesus proclaims and asks us to believe.

So to conclude, let us give thanks for Jesus’s strength of purpose in his earthly mission.

Let us give thanks:

  • For his unfailing response to the need of others.
  • For his example of prayer.
  • And for his message of God’s loving-kindness, which he proclaims to us all.

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