5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
02/08/2009
Readings
Job 7:1-4, 6-7
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
Mark 1:29-39

Christianity is of course founded on the ancient Jewish religion; in God’s plan of salvation the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob play the primary role in preparing the way for the Savior’s coming. As Pope John Paul II liked to say, the Jewish people are our “elder brothers.” As the fulfillment of Israel though, the Church is not identical to her elder brother, but rather a flowering of it. As such, Christianity has taken a very different view from Judaism in regards to evangelization. The very word “evangelization” has Christian origins: it is telling others the “Good News” (Greek: euangelion) about Christ. Whereas the Jewish religion rarely engages in outreach to non-Jews, deep within the heart of Christianity is the impulse to tell others about the person of Jesus and to show them the beauty and truth of his teachings.

The first great evangelist was himself a zealous Jew: Paul of Tarsus. Before his conversion he desired greatly for the restoration of Israel and the day when all nations would flock to the temple to hear the word of the Lord. After his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, this desire was redirected, but not lessened. Now, instead of the nations pouring into Israel to hear the word, Paul would bring the Word to the nations. This desire was all consuming for Paul, as can be seen in his first letter to the Corinthians: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). To Paul, not preaching the Gospel would be as unnatural as not breathing.

The desire to preach the Good News to others is founded in the work of Christ himself. In today’s Gospel reading, we see that after curing many and casting out demons in Capernaum, Jesus went out with his disciples to other towns to preach and cast out demons. What he was doing could not be limited to one town, or even one region or nation – it was Good News for all the world. The work of Jesus’ evangelization detailed by Mark should be instructive for all of us. First, before going out to other towns, Jesus went to a “deserted place” to pray (Mark 1:35). All evangelization must be rooted in a deep life of prayer otherwise it is a house built on sand. Then, when Jesus does go out, Mark describes his mission as “preaching and driving out demons” (Mark 1:39). The work of evangelization is fundamentally a rescue mission. Job describes the life of a man without Christ:

He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, "When shall I arise?" then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle; they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again. (Job 7:2-4, 6-7).
Those who are separated from Christ are held hostage by unseen powers, but the Gospel has the power to save them. This is why Paul was so compelled to preach the Gospel: he deeply desired to rescue as many as possible from the slavery of the evil one. We need to pray that God gives each of us strength to be an evangelist who preaches the Gospel faithfully and in power.


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