He Went Off To A Lonely Place!

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.
Job 7:1-4, 6-7 – 1Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 – Mark 1:29-39.

You will have learned from experience the best way to recharge your batteries after a tiring day. Perhaps you boost your calorie intake or treat yourself to a stiff drink or put your feet up and have forty winks. We all know how important it is to have enough energy to tackle a task, which is why we need to know how to keep ourselves fit, healthy and full of energy. At the very beginning of his account of the life and earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus, St Mark highlighted how Jesus maximised the physical, mental and spiritual energy He needed for His mission. We read in today’s Gospel that, after having healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and having worked hard through the evening to heal and exorcise those who were brought to Him, Jesus withdrew very early the next morning to a lonely place. Why did He go off to be alone, why did He choose to pray one-to-one with the Father, and what do these behaviours tell us about the source of power and energy so essential for His ministry?

From the Gospel passage, we deduce that the primary source of Jesus’ power for mission was prayer.  He must have expended an enormous amount of energy in teaching and healing in the synagogue on the Sabbath, plus He had been busy after sunset ministering to needy people who came to Him or who were brought to Him. He must have been exhausted after only a few hours’ sleep, but ‘while it was still dark, Jesus got up and left the house, and went off’ (v.35) specifically in order to pray. He ‘went off to a lonely place’. Note the words ‘went off.’ He went off to be alone with God the Father. Jesus drew energy from His love of His Father and from His union with Him in prayer. That energy gave Him the strength to continue with and fulfil His salvific mission. Now, if God the Son needed to spend so much time alone with God the Father in prayer, how much more do we!

Jesus’ power was manifested through His urge to fulfil His mission. When Simon Peter and his companions woke up, they thought Jesus had gone missing. It was imperative that He should be found! So, they went off in search of Him, and when they found Him, they stated the obvious in saying “everybody is looking for you” (v.37). That’s as true now as it was back then. Of course, the people of Capernaum wanted Him to stay on, and ‘would have kept Him from leaving them’ (Lk 4:42), but He knew that His mission across time and place was far too great to be confined to one needy town. He answered His disciples, ‘let us go elsewhere…so that I can preach there too’. The people of Capernaum had witnessed for themselves the reality of God in word and deed, and they now had the opportunity to become messengers of the Gospel themselves. Jesus’ sense of His mission to preach is a powerful lesson for us. We need courageous voices to speak up today and motivate believers to spread the Good News by giving them a clear sense of direction in the Christian life.

Jesus’ power was expressed through His fidelity to His mission. In responding to His disciples, Jesus explained to His disciples why He and they had to go out to other towns: ‘that I may preach there also, for that is why I came’ (v.38). Jesus’ mission was to preach, to teach the people. Yes, He would substantiate to them via physical and spiritual healings the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth, but He emphasised that preaching was the main task of His ministry. Jesus went throughout Galilee, preaching and exorcising (v.39). Jesus’ fidelity to His Father facilitated a full charge of power directly from the source of transcendent power to Jesus, immanent God, God-with-us (Is 7:14; Mt 1:23). God’s power charges us fully and energises us when we are committed and faithful to the mission with which He tasks us. Our personal mission demands our fidelity to Him. St. Paul’s declaration to the Corinthian church, that his mission drove him to “make [him]self all things to all men… for the sake of the gospel” is an inspiring example to us of the fidelity we are called upon to show to God.

Fidelity to God brings its own challenges. Even in the excitement of preaching the Gospel, St. Paul felt his weakness and loneliness keenly. Job too, in the First Reading, bewailed his frustration regarding the situation of his life. He bemoaned the drudgery of life. Only God could help him. Now, the result of overactive physical activity tends to be pain or even weakness in over-used muscles. My point here is that the body doesn’t become permanently inactive because of a short-term weakness; rather, it repairs and re-energizes itself for further activity. Similarly, the physical and emotional pains we encounter for the sake of the Gospel are passing, and are never intended to weaken the vitality of the soul permanently. Recharging the power needed in our souls to thirst continually for God is achievable by purposely setting aside time to be alone with God. God alone suffices (2 Cor 12:9) and grace saves us when we cannot (Eph 2:8f). While Job’s situation reminds us how prone we are to see helplessness and hopelessness all around us despite God’s proximity, St. Paul’s attitude is the one we need to adopt to battle on in the face of feelings of weakness and frustration. Our Lord shows us what to do, especially when we are weighed down by physical or emotional stress as the result of our witnessing to Him: withdraw and pray! Renewed strength and energy can be drawn from solitude and prayer. Can we determine to practice solitude and prayer all the more today, to separate ourselves from the ongoing internal noise and conversation within each one us, and to energise ourselves with the power of God? Yes, we can! Amen. God bless you.