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February 4 2018 Fifth Sunday of the Year (B)

  1. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
  2. Reflection and Dialogue: Evangelization Today. Preach the good news at all seasons.

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Job 7:1-4. 6-7). Human beings have a hard service on earth. The book of Job is not merely a writing within the canon. It is also regarded as one of the classics of world literature. It is the work of an independent believing mind, who refused to accept the traditional teaching that misfortune and illness were divine punishment for sin and would be healed through confession of personal guilt. Job was a very wealthy, pious, god-fearing man who had lost everything and now had a serious illness. He gives poetic descriptions of his plight, one of them being today’s reading. This reading stresses Job’s miserable situation, the passing nature of human life and its fragility when disaster strikes, as if life were absurd, without meaning or hope. When the author of Job was writing (say about 450-400 BC), belief in a meaningful afterlife had not yet emerged. The reading is chosen for today’s liturgy to go and contrast with the Gospel reading, in which Jesus enters the human condition, bringing healing and hope.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 146). The Lord heals the broken-hearted, he binds up all their wounds.

Second Reading (1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23). Preaching the gospel is a duty placed on the apostles and the church. In approaching the liturgical Sunday readings we naturally pay attention to the point the readings are making, even if some verses of the original biblical text are omitted. This present reading stresses Paul’s sense of divine mission to preach the Gospel, calling on him to live a life in which this mission will shine through, and have affect in conversions. Having grasped this message, it is also good to set the particular reading in its original fuller context, and thus have the liturgical reading lead us into an understanding of the biblical book in question. As in last Sunday’s second reading, Paul is still here dealing with the contents of a letter he had received from the Corinthians, and some of its implications. Last Sunday’s reading was about abstaining from marital relations or marriage entirely. The same letter also raised other issues. Some within the Corinthian community, an elite, in relation to food offered to idols, wrote: “All of us possess knowledge”, a sort of liberals who knew pagan gods did not exist, and food offered to them could freely be eaten, even in temple food houses. Doing so could endanger the faith of weaker members, damage their “consciences”, that is their vulnerable self-image as Christians. Paul puts them on their guard in this regard. In Corinth some even questioned Paul’s credentials as an apostle. To retain his independence, and possibly avoid any sponsorship from richer members of the community, Paul refused to be supported by the Corinthian church; he worked for his living (possibly as a tent maker), even though he was aware of his right to be supported. Some of this is reflected in today’s second reading. The central truth in this is Paul’s keen sense of the nature of his divine mission, and mandate, to preach the Gospel. He has seen the risen Lord on the Damascus road. There he had been given the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6).

Gospel (Mark 1:29-39). Jesus cures many suffering from diseases and stresses his mission to preach the good news. This reading for today’s Mass is a continuation of that read last Sunday. Both together give Mark’s account of a day, the first day, in the ministry of Jesus. Last Sunday’s reading began by stressing Jesus’ teaching with authority. Today’s reading ends with Jesus stressing his mission to preach the good news, to teach. During the day Jesus has been teaching in the synagogue and healing, including the apostle Peter’s mother-in-law. In the evening, after sunset, the activity increases. Jesus heals all kinds of diseases. Jesus’ sleep must have been short, in the house he had as base in Capernaum. Long before dawn he got up and went to a quiet place to pray. Jesus gives the example for the church, all of us, to follow. Success of Jesus’ mission, of the Christian mission, is not just by preaching, not just by works of mercy, healing and such like. It requires an atmosphere of faith, an openness to the kingdom of God, to the living God who is working through Jesus, in and through the church, an attitude fostered through quiet prayer and piety, after the example of Jesus.

  1. Reflection and the Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: Evangelization Today. Preach the good news at all seasons.

Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: “Let us go elsewhere, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came”, call on us to reflect on the ongoing Church’s mission of evangelization. Over the past decades a “year of evangelization” has been proclaimed by the Church in general, or in different parts of it, to coincide with outstanding dates such as the beginning of a new millennium (2000) or such like. The Church established a Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and Pope Benedict decided to invoke a “Year of Faith”, to begin on 11 October 2011, the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, and to end on November 24 2012, the Solemnity of Christ the King. The aim of that special “Year of Faith” was "to give new impetus to the mission of the whole Church to lead people out of the desert in which they often find themselves, to the place of life, of friendship with Christ".

            This Sunday’s second reading and Gospel text remind us that the call to evangelization, to preach the good news of salvation through Christ and his Church, is an ongoing imperative for Church leaders and for all the faithful. That sense of urgency is evident in Christ’s words, and stands behind his journeying throughout Galilee. It is equally clear for Paul. He considered it a duty laid on him; he would be punished by God if he did not preach. The vision of Christ on the Damascus road, of the glory of God revealed in the face of the Lord Jesus, of the new age Christ’s death and resurrection had ushered in – all this was an abiding driving force with Paul. His preaching was about new life in Christ, made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. It was about the new covenant, the new heart, written by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers. It was the call of Jesus, to repent and believe in the good news of salvation, to focus, or refocus, on Christ and his saving work.

            In a sense this missionary imperative is for all believers, not just for Church leaders, for the clergy and religious. It is, in different ways, for all, interacting and working in unison. In one sense the situation facing evangelization today is no different today than it was for Jesus and Paul. No different in that in any age acceptance of Christ’s message presupposes on the part of the recipient a respectful (or pious) inclination to believe, a certain connaturality between those to whom the message is addressed and the preacher of the message. As Christ said to some Jews of his day: “You do not believe me because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:26). A difference between the days of Christ and of Paul and of our own is that for many of our contemporaries such connaturality, or inclination to believe, no longer exists, especially among some of the young. It is not just a question of human autonomy or ill will. As some of the young might express it, it is that they just cannot “engage”, “connect”. Belief in the unseen, and directions on life arising from this, just does not make sense for them. Monotheism, with its belief in an unseen God, always had some difficulties. Evangelization in our day will thus have to bear at least three groups, possibly more, in mind: full believers, those in some doubt regarding Christian belief and practice, and those with no belief (even if they would like to believe if considered reasonable).

            For the believing community evangelization will mean “self-evangelization”, getting a deeper knowledge of their faith, empowering them to give a defence of the hope (faith) that is them when asked to do so, but with gentleness and reverence (see 1 Peter 3:15-16).

            Effective evangelization requires a listening ear. When explaining the Gospel message to the Corinthians Paul had read and carefully listened to what they had said in their letter to him. It is important today to see what reasons have led people to abandon the practice of their religion, or go lax with regard to it, or abandon faith entirely. For some it may just be shyness, on reaching adulthood; for others it may be the scandals; for others a variety of reasons. A new evangelization indicates the presentation of the Christian religion as a boon, not a burden, a sure guide in life. A new presentation calls for the cooperation of many individuals, clergy, theologians lay and clerical, doctors, scientists, various specialists to examine together current faith questions and reply accordingly.

            All Christian preaching, teaching and evangelization must be accompanied by prayer, and carried out in an atmosphere of faith. Jesus, as presented in today’s gospel reading, gives us the example and the model. He went to a lonely place to pray, spoke of the urgency of his mission to preach, and then preached. The Christian religion is a mystery; its truth and meaning revealed, and confirmed in the heart, through the work of Holy Spirit. Let us pray for the success of the Church’s ongoing mission of evangelization.