Most of us have to face nights when we cannot sleep, because of pain or worry of some kind. Like Job in our 1st Reading (Job 7:1-7) we toss and turn wondering “When will it be day?” I usually sleep well, so when it happens to me I find it very difficult, and if I discover it is about 4 in the morning and I am still awake, then I will give up trying to sleep, and get up and make myself a cup of tea and sit somewhere and put myself into the hands of God.
I wonder if this is what happened to Jesus in our Gospel today? (Mark 1:29-39) He had had a busy day praying with the sick and the suffering, and all was going well; but he knew that his task was not to be successful but to challenge the world with his Gospel message. He knew too that this would end up with his own death, just as had happened to his cousin John the Baptist. So he gets up early, and goes somewhere away from the house to pray, and that’s where the disciples find him. I wonder if his prayer was like his prayer on the night he was arrested, when he agonised about his future with God.
Some people question how Jesus can be God and yet pray to God. They fail to realise that when we Christians talk about God, although we may use language that implies that God is some kind of person in one place, we know that actually God is a power beyond our understanding who can be present in all and every place at the same time. So God can be fully in Jesus, and yet also everywhere else. That’s why, if we are true to the teaching of Jesus, we must live out the Gospel message everywhere. Our love cannot be confined just to our family and friends but must be shared as widely as possible.
The disciples are small minded men without Jesus’ vision. They have seen his success healing people in the village, and so they want to take him back there, presumably so that they can bask in his glory. But Jesus knows that he has to move on, that he cannot just stay put in one place. So he says “Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.’ Later on, the risen Jesus actually says explicitly, does he not. (Matt 28:19-20) “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
This command to go to all the nations is there throughout his teaching. Remember the story in St Luke’s Gospel (4:24-30) when we hear how he went to his home place of worship, and when they praised him he immediately challenged them with a reminder of how God worked powerfully amongst foreigners way back in the time of Elijah and Elisha. They were so offended by this reminder that they then tried to kill him!
It’s always easier for us to speak to people we know, or people from a similar background to us, rather than to strangers ; but as Christians that is what we are supposed to do. As Christians, we must never limit ourselves just to places and people we feel comfortable with. St Paul in our 2nd Reading today (1 Cor 9:16-23) actually says that he only receives the blessings of the Gospel by sharing it. If we keep our faith to ourselves, if we share our love and care only with those we know, then we have failed to follow Jesus; for he told us, as you know, to love our enemies, even those who persecute and hate us. (Matt 5:43-44)
We do not have to travel to foreign countries to do this, but if that is God’s calling then that is what we must do. One of the Catholic Churches in Oxford is run by two Nigerian priests who have felt the call to come and re-convert those who live in England, where so many people are slipping away from the faith. But even in the place where we live, we can find plenty of people we might not think of as people to share the Gospel with. Let me give you an example from the Immigration Detention Centre where I say a Sunday Mass on a Monday. Here I might well encourage the men to think of the Officers, the Staff, as people they otherwise might easily forget. As officials we might well forget that they too are human beings, children of God, and they too may well be struggling with some problem. A kind word and an offer to pray for them may be just what they need.
Remember Zacchaeus the hated tax-collector up the tree? Only Jesus looked up and did not just see him, but called him down and thus changed his life. Whatever our situation we must never neglect the stranger who might be right under our noses, because that is what Jesus wants us to do