227. Capernaum: He Went Out To A Lonely Place and Prayed

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29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. [Mark 1:29-39, NRSV]

     

Church of St. Peter in Capernaum, exterior and interior views. From Wikimedia Commons.

Capernaum is on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee. The Gospel of Matthew tells of Jesus leaving Nazareth and came to dwell in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13). Known as Jesus’ town, Capernaum was his centre of activities. Peter’s house (not his mother-in-law’s house as some people like to call it – see Mark 1:29) was located in this town, and was probably where Jesus stayed. We visited the Church of St Peter which is built over the ruins of Peter’s house. Glass panels in the middle of the Church offer a clear view of the remains of the house below.

Next to St Peter’s Church and house is the archeological site of an ancient synagogue. When Pope Paul VI visited Israel in 1968, he prayed “emotionally” at this ancient synagogue site.

During Mass,in this Church, Jeff gave the following short reflection.

Reflection:

Each time I read this Scripture, the most important starting point for me is verse 35:

  • In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.”

What is going to happen after this morning will depend on the fruit of Jesus’ “long before dawn” prayer at a “lonely place”. But, first, what happened the night before?

Last night sounded like another crazy night. Preceding all that mad flow of events and human traffic was Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever simply by lifting her out of bed. That kind of set the stage for the story-teller Mark. In the evening, Mark says in his typical economy of words, that all the sick and all the demon-possessed were brought to Jesus. Then, employing a description one sometimes wonders whether Mark means it literally or just metaphorically, he says “the whole town came crowding at the door”! In a way that will soon become familiar and customary, Mark also says Jesus healed many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another and, of course, he cast out many devils as well.

The message is clear. Jesus’ popularity spread like wild fire. Such was the immense pull, the crazy attraction of Jesus of Nazareth wherever he went. If Jesus were not careful, he and by association his disciples would be so intoxicated with (shall we even say “corrupted” by) this corrosive and worldly Michael-Jackson-Superstar syndrome that they could soon forget about their true mission – which was preaching and living the messages of the kingdom of God.

To stay focused on that mission, Jesus has to do two things.

First, to silence the demons.

Why?

Because they knew who he was, the Messiah. If the people knew that he was the Messiah, they would force him to lead a political revolution against the occupying enemies, the Romans, kill and drive them into the sea. We have heard so much from Mr. Murad about the Zealots at Masada. But Jesus was not a political and violent Messiah. He preached God’s kingdom message of peace and non-violence. To practice what he preached and to show the people that the evangelical values of which he preached were humanly achievable, he would have to live the message of non-violence, for which he would have to suffer, to carry his cross, and to even die if he had to.

His disciples had not understood that at this early stage. He must keep his true identity as the Messiah a secret until they have really come to terms with the reality that the way of the Messiah is not to fight violent wars, but to suffer and die. That is the famous theme of the “messianic secret” in the Gospel of St Mark.

  • The fact of Jesus’ messiahship must be kept a secret until we have learned that the way of the Messiah is the kingdom way and the kingdom way is the way of the cross, the way of non-violent suffering, to make sacrifices for the larger picture, the big ideal, the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven.

In the meantime, the demons must be silenced!

Second, Jesus needed to pray in a lonely place.

Long before dawn, Jesus got up and went to a lonely place to pray. Why?

To be alone with the Alone, to commune with Abba Father, to meditate, to be strengthened and empowered  by the Holy Spirit, to stay on course not just preaching the kingdom of God, but steadfastly living the kingdom of God, all the way to Calvary.

His disciples, of course, did not get that. They did not get up early in the morning to commune with God in a lonely place. They simply could not understand why he was out there this early, when “everybody is looking for you”. They wanted him back at the house where business was roaring good, where they could be “power-brokers” or better-put, human “intermediaries” of divine power. To do so, they needed to stay put, to be stationary at a fixed desk to attend to people. All that might even seem well and good on the surface, but underneath it all lurked something that was potentially corrosive spiritually. For a start, these intermediaries could soon settle down to waiting for the people to come and pay them homage in order to receive favours from God. And then, by and by, as positions strengthened and demands for their services grew, a sense of indispensability could take over. This, history has repeatedly shown, poses a tough challenge to the original innocence of the human nature. Popularity intoxicates, and vision blurs.

The Lord Jesus’ reply brought them back to the right track, dashing any possible dreams of power-brokerage:

  • Let us go elsewhere, to the neighboring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.” (JB)

Jesus of Nazareth, who got up before dawn to commune with Abba Father, never lost sight of his mission to go out, to go elsewhere, to preach and spread the Good News. He would not just sit tight, waiting for the people to come and pay him homage, perhaps managed by intermediaries. Otherwise he would be training a bunch of stationary managers. Pope Francis, who understands in depth the essence of what the Lord wants of the Church, is tirelessly asking all in the Church to go out, to where the needs are.

Copyright © Dr. Jeffrey & Angie Goh, July 2019. All rights reserved.

You are most welcome to respond to this post. Email your comments to jeffangiegoh@gmail.com. You can also be dialogue partners in this Ephphatha Coffee-Corner Ministry by sending us questions for discussion.

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