Mark 1:29-39
Everyone's Looking
by Rev. Stephen G. Oetjen

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.  Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.  They immediately told him about her.  He approached, grasped her hand and helped her up.  Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.  The whole town was gathered at the door.  He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.  Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, "Everyone is looking for you."  He told them, "Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.  For this purpose have I come."  So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

St. Mark's Gospel is very fast-paced and action-packed.  In a flurry of activity in the first chapter, Jesus gets right to work proclaiming the Gospel of God, calling his first disciples, teaching authoritatively in the synagogue and casting out a demon.  By the end of last week's Gospel passage, we heard, "His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee" (Mk 1:28).  Word is spreading fast.  Our Lord is quickly becoming something of a celebrity.

This Sunday, still in the first chapter of Mark, we continue to hear of Our Lord's growing celebrity status.  After the sun sets in Capernaum, today's Gospel tells us, "The whole town was gathered at the door."  Before the dawn of the next morning, Jesus goes off to a deserted place to pray.  When Simon and a few others find him, they tell him, "Everyone is looking for you."

Capernaum, a town along the Sea of Galilee, is where the house of Simon Peter and Andrew was located.  It is also a place in which Jesus spent a lot of time and performed many miracles.  When we hear that the "whole town was gathered at the door" and that everyone there was looking for Jesus, we might think that this was a town full of immense faith.  What else besides faith would draw people to Jesus like this?

Other passages of the Gospels give us clues to the contrary.  It was in the synagogue of Capernaum that Jesus gave the "Bread of Life" discourse, telling his hearers that he is the bread of life and that they must eat his flesh if they are to have eternal life within them.  After that "hard saying," St. John tells us, "many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him" (Jn 6:60-66).  And later on in his public ministry, Jesus had harsh words for Capernaum and a few other Galilean towns.  St. Matthew tells us of an instance when Jesus "began to upbraid the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.  'Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida! . . .  And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven?  You shall be brought down to Hades.  For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you"  (Mt 11:20-24).

This helps us see the crowd's overwhelmingly enthusiastic response today in its proper perspective.  Enthusiasm is not the same as faith.  A groupie s not the same as a disciple.  And as it turns out, Our Lord is not all that interested in being a "celebrity".

Whenever someone in the Gospels does show real faith, Jesus praises it and points it out.  Jesus, who sees beyond the appearance and into men's hearts, can tell the difference between sincere faith and mere curiosity or superficial desire.  Someone may have a desire for Jesus, but it may turn out to be a desire for Jesus on one's own terms, not on Jesus' terms.  Someone may want Jesus for the wrong reasons.  Like many of those in Capernaum 20 centuries ago, we may want Jesus for healings but not want to stick around for the "hard sayings."  We may want Jesus for a quick fix but not want to respond to his call to repentance.  We may want Jesus, but only when it is convenient.

This is why St. John Henry Newman says that self-denial is the test of earnestness.  It's not enthusiasm, nor warm feelings, but the willingness to deny ourselves that shows that we are sincere disciple of Christ.  In fact, St. John Henry Newman says, "The self-denial which is the test of our faith must be daily." Our Lord calls us, after all, to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him (Lk 9:23).  "Accordingly," Newman continues, "it seems that Christian obedience does not consist merely in a few occasional efforts, a few accidental good deeds, or certain seasons of repentance, prayer, and activity."

Let us come looking for Christ with a desire to pledge our whole lives to him, not merely to show up "at the door" with a mere curious interest or a self=serving purpose.