by Rev. Fr. M. K. Kuriakose, Philadelphia
Gospel Reading: Mark 1:12-20
The baptism of our Lord precedes this passage. The Holy Spirit descended on him and a declaration came from the Father, "he is beloved son in whom I am well pleased." In this post baptismal period the Lord is preparing for His ministry by retreating to the wilderness and soon after the return he selected his disciples. We can have a few thoughts from this passage:
1. Retreat for Empowerment:
Soon after the filling with the Holy Spirit, Jesus was led to the wilderness. This is very symbolic. The Holy Spirit was trying to guide the Lord to get into a tough discipline to equip Him for His ministry. Knowing well the kind of ministry that He is going to take up, Jesus obeys the Spirit to move into a place where there are no humans but animals and Satan. Virtually it was in the wilderness where material needs of a man such as food, shelter and help from other humans are not available. This training is typical because Jesus will face alone in the crowd experience during his ministry. Lack of food, lack of protection (among the wild animals, verse 13) and lack of care by other people. Normally this can terrify a normal person. The desert fathers in Egypt faced this situation. The present Patriarch Shenouda III spent six years in the wilderness in a cave that is seven miles away from the Syrian Monastery in the Egyptian wilderness. Living in a cave alone without proper food and protection, His Holiness gained power to overcome human weaknesses. Later he was elected as the Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church because people trusted his spirituality. We have such examples to emulate in our own times that the retreat of Jesus to wilderness was necessary to gain spiritual strength.
2. The Good News for Repentance:
The Lord begins his ministry with the most important message, "the Kingdom of God is near, and therefore, repent". This was the good news. John the Baptist already paved the way for this preaching of repentance. It was not easy to preach a sermon of repentance those days. John the Baptist was already put in prison for preaching repentance. Jesus was empowered to preach this good news to the people. It was a new message for the people to hear. For the Jewish community this message was a very relevant one. A community that has been too established with all rules and regulations, laws and observances and a paraphernalia of leadership at various levels. The Lord found that God was absent in them. Everything that came as rules of the religion did not care for the needs of the people. Therefore the Lord was very clear in his asking for the change of mind (metanoia) or repentance. People were amazed that Jesus made a lot of sense because the common man was under pressure with all the rules, regulations and traditional patterns of religious nuances. The people at the helm of spiritual affairs were not at all aware that they have gone away from God so much. That too in the name of God they did all the sins justifying their evil actions. Doesn't it remind us of our present time? Doesn't our present time reminds that we need true repentance today?
3. God call us to be "fishers of men":
In a popular sense this call of the Lord is very strange. In the modern age, people are waiting for a call to get a job, or to become rich or popular, and so on. Who would want to get a call to fish for people? This is the reason that the so-called people who are called to be fishers of men are a huge disappointment to the Christian world. Most of these fishers of men are all truly in the pursuit of fishing for their own well-being, position and authority. This is the main reason that we have so much problem within the Christian community itself that people who are seeking their own glory cannot earn people for Christ. The serious question of the present time to Christians Churches today is, why people are leaving the Church? If attracting people to the Lord is the primary duty of the Church, then many other priorities that we have today deserves rethinking. One of my Church History professors used to tell an example in the history class about the building of the Church. The scaffolding that is erected to build the Church on the foundation of Jesus Christ is constituted of the Church leaders including clergy with a view to build the Church. But often the scaffolding becomes the Church itself. The so-called leaders are seeking their own glory than the needs of the people who are to be built on Christ. Thus the work for the people is ignored and the work for the leaders becomes priority. We can see specific examples in today's Church life that the amount of time that we spend on defining the power and rights of the leaders through various disputes and court cases take bulk of our time instead of concentrating on the needs of the ordinary people. The scaffolding is becoming the Church. Ultimately what happens is that the work for the people is stagnant.
4. The Response of the Disciples:
It is amazing that the apostles right away obeyed the call and followed the Lord without any condition and leaving their kith and kin. There was no material attraction for any of the disciples to follow the Lord. Discipleship is a costly matter. In today's world no one is going to follow Christ if there is no good return. Some professional Christian speakers even fix their rates before venture out to preach to the people. Once a follower of Christ is motivated by material or worldly benefits, the entire call is corrupted. There the very mission is in turmoil. This has happened in many mainland Churches where ministers make financial conditions to work for God. It has come almost like a secular job now. This is the reason that the Malankara Orthodox Church mandated all the bishops to renounce their personal property as soon as they are elected to bishopric. The Church should take care of all their needs. There is no need of personal accounts, no bargain for salary, etc. In Christian discipleship, even ones own family is of secondary importance. Priority is always for the work of the Lord. The Lords promise is with us, "seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added onto you". Matt. 6:33. But who would believe the Lord? Those who believe will make difference for the Kingdom of God.
thoughts for 5th Sunday after Denaha
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril
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