OM’s Message to the Church
On the 5th Sunday after Epiphany
February 7, 2021
TO DEARLY BELOVED PEOPLE OF GOD
In the Iglesia Filipina Independiente
We greet everyone the Lord’s peace as we come to assemble together for the Eucharistic worship today being the 5th Sunday after Epiphany. We wish every IFI member all over the forty-nine dioceses and organized worshipping congregations overseas a Happy Lord’s Day, a Blessed Sunday, and a Safe Week ahead. We hope that our participation in the worship service today refreshes our zealousness and enthusiasm in the IFI’s life, faith and witness, even in these difficult days of continuing health crisis all over the world and of persisting tyranny in our domestic situation in the Philippines. We pray that God’s grace we receive today renews and enlivens our commitment to pursue the IFI’s mission by our persistent prayers, worship and service; by our faithful proclamation of the Lord Jesus’ life-giving gospel, by our courageous promotion of justice, peace and righteousness, and by our steadfast discipleship and bold witness.
We continue to celebrate the Season of Epiphany whose overarching theme is the manifestation and introduction of the Lord Jesus to all peoples of the earth as the Savior and Redeemer of the world. We
celebrated his birth as a baby born in the manger, and through these Sundays in Epiphany we see and experience him, through the gospel readings, that being God’s incarnate Word he has grown up and become the adult Jesus who lived-out his public ministry starting in the region of Galilee. We hear the gospel readings during this season telling us with stories filled in variant ways how the Lord Jesus is being revealed to the people around him and to us in these modern times, through the events in his baptism, in doing miracles as he healed the sick and driven out evil spirits, in his calling of the disciples, and in his teaching in their house of worships and teachings, the synagogues. Particular to today’s gospel reading, he is manifested to be persistent to move forward in his task and mission, as he unequivocally declares, “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” (Mark 1.38). And so we hear in the gospel reading that “he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39) because he was sent to proclaim God’s love to the world.
The gospel reading for this Sunday, taken from Mark 1:29-39, has consisted actually of three parts: firstly, the story of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law who was high with fever (Mark 1:29-31); secondly, the description of the multitude of sick and possessed persons who were brought to Jesus and many were healed and exorcised (Mark 1:32-34); and thirdly, the account of Jesus going to the wilderness alone very early in the morning in order to pray and, when found by the disciples, expressed his resolve to go to preach in the towns throughout Galilee (Mark 1:35-39). It is interesting to notice here that the scenes within the three parts of this gospel reading shuttle back and forth between events done by our Lord Jesus in private and public settings. The account begins with the encounter among few people in the private setting of the house of Simon Peter during the healing of her motherin-law by the Lord Jesus; then the situation shifts to the public setting among the crowd of sick and possessed persons outside the house whom the Lord Jesus cured and healed. The situation swings back again to the private setting when the Lord Jesus is praying alone in a deserted place; and the situation returns again to public setting in the decision of the Lord Jesus to preach farther around the region of Galilee. The sequence of events in this gospel reading obviously shows about the continuing growth of the popularity of the Lord Jesus as “his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee” (Mark 1:28), springing forth from his initial deed of healing the person with unclean spirit in the synagogue (Mark 1:21-27).
The same sequence of events in this gospel reading is likewise telling us the significant deeds of the Lord Jesus that will characterize his public ministry. Foremost among these deeds is the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, which highlights to us that at the start of the Lord Jesus’ public ministry, he already demonstrated his bias in favor of those who are the least in his society, like the women. In his time, women were regarded as non-persons, they were considered as properties of the men, and they had no rights, no voice, and no place in their society except servitude to domestic works at home or to their husbands in their marriage. The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law represents the inclusion of women in the agenda of the Lord Jesus’ work for renewal and transformation of the world and humanity. He healed the woman and restored her back, firstly, into her family, and secondly into her society. But most, this healing acts shows us how the Lord Jesus had highlighted the importance of women in his mission and ministry. In here, the Lord Jesus had honored women by making a woman the subject of the gospel of Mark’s first miracle (Mark 1:29-31); then later in the gospel we will read that he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43), and cured a woman with a hemorrhage (Mark 5:25-34). We notice in this healing story that the Lord Jesus had touched the woman, an unlikely act to do for a male teacher, and an improper gesture to make on a sick person, all according to their religious traditions. But the Lord Jesus did not mind of the taboo: he touched the woman to channel unto her his healing power; he touched the woman to demonstrate his caring concern; he touched the woman to show that sickness cannot make a person unclean. We notice in this story, that the healing has resulted to serving: the woman began to serve the Lord Jesus not only as being the host in the house as she was enabled to carry on her normal activities but as like as his disciples providing his needs for his mission and ministry and exercising a servant role like the Lord Jesus who comes “not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). The healing projects to us of several women in Mark’s gospel exercising their own way of discipleship, like for instance the poor widow at the temple who gave more than anyone (Mark 12:43); the woman who poured costly nard on the Lord Jesus anointing his body for burial (Mark 14:8); the number of women who were present and standing before his cross during the crucifixion (Mark 15:40-41); and the group of three women who would go to the tomb to anoint the Lord Jesus’ body (Mark 16:1).
The gospel reading provides another significant deed to characterize the public ministry of the Lord Jesus which is the healing of the many sick persons and those who were possessed by demons. The Lord Jesus’
proclamation of God’s kingdom is done by teaching and preaching, and by healing and casting out demons and evil spirits. In this gospel reading, the Lord Jesus ministers to the sick – by healing either through
touching, or saying the word of forgiveness, and using particular material – and to those who were possessed – by exorcism either through calling out the evil spirits and demons, or saying with authoritative voice, and translating these evil spirits and demons to another medium like the swine. The people from all over the villages bring their sick and possessed persons to the Lord Jesus, and they gather at the door of Peter’s house waiting to be ministered by the Lord Jesus. These are likely the poor people who cannot afford the highly scarce medical services available at that time for their loved ones. It is interesting to read in the gospel account that the Lord has ministered to them all, and in fact cured and healed many of them throughout the evening. We are being made aware here by the gospel reading that it is for the sick that he came for (Mark 2:17) and his subsequent days in public ministry is largely identified with serving the poor and their sick and possessed. His act of exorcism projects the Lord Jesus’ greater acts to drive away forces tormenting the lives of the poor. In his time, Palestine is a vassal of the Roman empire and pays a huge tribute to the colonial power through the excessive taxation for the detriment of people’s welfare and national development. Poverty is massive among the people, and poverty brings more sickness in body and illness in minds and spirits. For the gospel reading, demonic power and evil spirits need to be driven away for human beings to enjoy life and human dignity. The puppets, apologists and defenders among the Jewish people know that the Lord Jesus’ acts of exorcism point eventually to the driving out of the masters of colonial subjugation and casting away of social systems and structures that perpetuate injustice, war and violence.
The gospel reading highlights prayer and recharging as essential element in the work and person of the Lord Jesus. This is the Lord Jesus’ way of communicating, getting in touch and connecting with God his Father. It is interesting to notice that prayer and getting recharged is the Lord Jesus’ typical exercise after engaging series of exhausting physical and spiritual activities. He generates up his new energy with God his Father; he replenishes his power from the ultimate and inexhaustible source. The gospel of Mark mentions two other occasions where the Lord Jesus has engaged in prayer (Mark 6:46; Mark 14:32-39), while in the gospel of Luke there is mentioned of eight occasions where our Lord Jesus prayed (Luke 3:21; Luke 5:16; Luke 6:12; Luke 9:18, 28; Luke 11:1; Luke 22:32, 41). The gospel reading is showing us the Lord Jesus’ human need for prayer and for recharging with God as he spent his power and authority to exorcise demons and evil spirits at the first stance, and to proceed with his task and mission in new places at the second stance. Hence, in this particular part of the gospel reading, he tells his disciples that there is no need to spend more days in Capernaum; they have to move forward, they have to go into new places and domain in order to continue the work he was being sent to do. It is not surprising for us to read in this gospel reading that the Lord Jesus seeks and finds his God the Father in prayer at the wilderness. We know that the wilderness has special meaning for Jews, as it was in the wilderness that God called the Israelites: shaped them, redeemed them, and made them into becoming the People of God. It was in the wilderness that Israel became a nation. Personally for the Lord Jesus, it was in the wilderness that he heard John the Baptist called people to repentance for the forgiveness and he himself asked for baptism from John the Baptist. But most, it was in the wilderness that the Lord Jesus has fortified his understanding about being God’s beloved son as he overcame the temptations. In prayer at the wilderness, the Lord Jesus has experienced being recharged, being fully loaded with God’s power to prepare and embolden him to proceed with his task and mission. After this recharging experience through prayer, the Lord Jesus says: “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” (Mark 1.38).
On this 5th Sunday after Epiphany we continue to celebrate God’s manifestation or introduction of the Lord Jesus to us being our Savior and Redeemer. Yet at the same time we are likewise challenged to manifest and demonstrate him in our life and deeds as baptized persons and church members. We are challenged being Church to introduce him and make him known to our members and people through our corporate mission and particular ministries. Hence, we are firstly challenged to go, to move forward, to walk and to journey
towards the many areas and horizons behind our church doors. We are called to be missionaries – going out from the comfort zones of our traditional programs and works as Church. We are expected to move
farther and farther away towards the center of our people’s lives and society; we are being tasked to launch into the deep of human needs, pastoral situations, and social demands in order for us to uphold human dignity and sanctity of life. In moving forward, we are expected to proclaim God’s message. Our next challenge is therefore to become, for one, consistent with our message, and for two, courageous with our proclamation. By this we are expected to go and deliver God’s message as proclaimed by the Lord Jesus, saying: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news”
(Mark 1:15). We are likewise expected to go and proclaim the Lord Jesus’ message: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). We are tasked to go and proclaim the message that “the Mighty One has done great things… and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:49-53).For us IFI, in this 5th Sunday after Epiphany, we are reminded of our mandate as Church, to manifest and introduce the Lord Jesus to our members and people as our Savior and Redeemer. We are refreshed to
go and to proclaim him as the Lord of life in our society, especially in these days of continuing pandemic and persisting tyranny where death is a commonplace. We are renewed to go and proclaim him as the Lord
of hope for our members and people who continue to confront with societal realities that women and their children are abused and exploited; that the poor are being neglected, deprived and manipulated; that justice and peace are being made elusive for and denied to longsuffering Filipino people; that repression and terrorism are designed to stifle legal dissent, to silence criticism, and to quell people’s protest. We are tasked to remember of our calling to go, to be with our people, and to find our Lord Jesus with them, in their cause and struggle, and proclaim in their midst the message of the fullness of life taught and inaugurated by our Lord Jesus.
And as we go and proclaim God’s message, we are to load ourselves with God’s power, fill ourselves with his Spirit, that we may joyfully persevere in pursuing his will and in doing his work. To do this, we have to connect ourselves with the ultimate and inexhaustible source of power and Spirit. We have to visit our own wilderness and find in there God’s perfecting ways for us because we know God often does his best work in the wilderness and use wilderness experience to reshape our lives to save us and to make us whole. To do this, we have to drink from our own wells and claim as our own God’s plan of liberation. Let us go and proclaim the message, because for us in the IFI we are called to serve and we will serve the Lord.
+ RHEE M. TIMBANG, Obispo Maximo