There are clearly two parts in today’s gospel narrative that present Jesus first as giver and then as receiver leading again to his giving.
Faced with human need, Jesus’ heart is moved to do what he can to alleviate their suffering. He frees those who are possessed by demons and heals those who are sick, including Peter’s mother-in-law (I facetiously find here the root of Peter’s denials: he never forgave Jesus for curing his mother-in-law). As Paul will much later tell his friends in Ephesus using an otherwise uncorroborated saying of Jesus, “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving” [Acts 20:35]. At least at the level of ministry, my own experience resonates with that quote. Yet in the course of years of ministry I have learned that I cannot keep on giving without at some point receiving. In my early years I found myself at times “drained”, empty, victim of one-sided spiritual activism.
That is where the second part of today’s gospel reading offers us a most valuable lesson in presenting Jesus as receiving, as being drawn to prayer to replenish his spirit, to rename priorities and to keep his spiritual energy from running out. And when those in his fan club — the “everyone is looking for you”— try to anchor him there and own him, he finds the strength and inner freedom to move on to where he is needed without clinging to where he is accepted. It is from this replenishing and re-prioritizing that he can go back “into their synagogues preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee”.
The desire to cling to acceptance is deeply human and I experience it as much as anyone else. But I have learned that without taking time for prayer it would hinder my availability to be present to those in need regardless of acceptance, my ability to pull up stakes and move on to where the greater need is — and, believe me, I have had to do a lot of that. It is interesting that Paul’s quote above comes at a moment when his dear friends in Ephesus are trying to keep him there and not let him move on to where the Spirit is leading him.
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