Saturday, 6 February 2021

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021

We continue to accompany Jesus as He goes through a day of His life. Last week, we witnessed His authority in both word and action. He inspired people through His principled preaching which resonated with the instinctive human yearning for authenticity. The same authority was also evident in the command to an evil spirit to depart and to stop tormenting a man.

The lesson we learnt last week is to recognise as well as to be aware that there is a force inimical to the exercise of Jesus’ authority over creation. The 1st reading on Job’s testing, which is not the focus of our theme, is an abiding reminder of Satan’s ploy against those who have chosen to stand on the side of God. However, we should not regard the reality of evil through the genre of horror movies. We may recognise its pervasive presence through the perspective of St Paul for we often cannot understand our own behaviour. We do not do the good we want but the evil we not want is what we keep doing. (Paul’s Letter to the Romans).

For now, we set aside this ubiquitous presence of Satan, so that we can delve deeper into the ministry of Jesus and there is no better place to begin our reflection than in the house of Simon Peter. His mother-in-law was laid low by a fever. Jesus took her by the hand and helped her up. Her healing may not be as dramatic as last week’s exorcism but there is more to this simple act than meets the eye.

Firstly, no one is outside the purview of Jesus’ ministry and for good reason which will become apparent later. He reaches out to the least. For Him everyone deserves to be saved, most especially those who desire it. Secondly, a closer inspection will reveal an element of the Resurrection. Healing, which is more than a physical restoration shows us that the scope of Jesus’ ministry is primarily salvific. This is important lest we to sink into practical and social activism.

He is the Saviour, for literally, He reached down to her to bring her up. Hence, if we plumb this motif of being laid low and raised up, we will begin to grasp why last week, Jesus struck a blow against Satan’s rule. Since sickness is largely associated with sinfulness, then, healing therefore connotes forgiveness and redemption.[1]

In other words, as the day progressed for Jesus, we must recognise that His ministry is more than the alleviation of the human condition. His ministration is an act of salvation and as the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law suggests, it follows a discernible pattern—of redemption, of restoration, and of service. It is this model that gives meaning to the “activism” or “service” which we prize so much today especially when we consider the scope of social inequality that scourges the face of the earth. In the case of the old lady, she was redeemed through her healing. She was given back to the community and in this case, she was restored to Peter’s family. Only then did she begin to serve Jesus and His newly constituted body of Apostles.

In a way, the Peter’s mother-in-law anticipates the future ministry of the Apostles and ours too. To be redeemed is not passive in the sense of just being saved—that one is just a recipient and no more. Instead, to be redeemed and to be restored are fertile soil from which service springs and sprouts. Just imagine the gratitude of the woman forgiven of her sins, who then wet the feet of Jesus with her tears and proceeded to wipe them with her hair. She was not a passive recipient of God’s forgiveness. She was also a grateful penitent.

We see the same pattern of redemption, restoration and service illustrated in the life of Our Lady. Think of the last two Glorious Mysteries—the Assumption and the Coronation. While they are not scriptural by any stretch of the imagination, they are however solidly grounded in a theology of salvation.

Mary was conceived without Original Sin which meant that she was already redeemed at the moment of her conception. At the end of her earthly life, her Assumption symbolised our restoration to the glory that belongs to God’s creation—she is the icon of what would have happened if Man had not sinned. And finally, she serves Her Son fully through her role as the Queen of heaven and of earth. She, who by virtue of Christ had already been redeemed at her conception, can only be the Mother who reaches out to the members of the Body of Christ. Mary, the first of the Redeemed, serves the Church whole-heartedly. Her maternal care has a destination, a goal which is always to lead us to her Son.

There is a connexion between eternal salvation and service in which the ministration we provide must serve its primary purpose, that is, that we be saved. The joy of being saved is the impetus of our service. In that way, Mary is the model to imitate in terms of the salvific ministry of Christ. If we appreciate that He came to save us, then in gratitude, our response is to imitate Mary in bringing others to Christ. Redeemed and restored, we have an entire life of service to lead. Our service of our brothers and sisters is crucial because there is a war waged against humanity by forces that desire to keep Man in bondage, be it spiritual, psychological, or physical.

In this service, no matter how pressing, we should take note that as Jesus ended the day, He retreated to a place to pray. Even as the Apostles came looking for Him, He indicated that His relationship with the Father is the indispensable source of strength for the work of eternal salvation. Hence, our participation in this service requires that we also prioritise our relationship with God because anyone who desires to serve Him will, like Jesus and Job, encounter the Devil who will put us to the test. Finally, the more engaged we are in the Vineyard of the Lord, the more decisive our relationship with the Father is to the ministry we undertake.The strength of our relationship with God is the only security we have against the Devil.


[1] Interestingly, this simple action of Jesus reaching out becomes the archetype or the precursor of the mystery which took place between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. In theology, it is called the Harrowing of Hell. We recite the Apostles’ Creed that “He descended into Hell”. It represents a triumphant descent of Christ into Hades where in some iconography, He is depicted as going there to retrieve the souls of the righteous who since the beginning of creation have been waiting for the Redeemer to save them. This portrait of Christ salvific act is reflected in an ancient homily which is the basis for the 2nd Reading from Holy Saturday’s Office of Reading.