The Urgency of Jesus – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Have you ever noticed how often the Evangelist Mark uses the word immediately? I am always struck by its use regarding the call of a few apostles. They immediately left their fishing nets or their father and followed Jesus. It probably didn’t happen in that exact manner (though there are occasional life decisions that do happen in a relative flash), but Mark uses the word to express a certain urgency in the message and mission of Jesus. His Jesus is urging us not to delay.
There are a few commentators who refer to Mark’s Gospel as the Gospel of immediacy. Variations of the word are used forty times in the Gospel.
The events in today’s Gospel (Mark 1:29-39) seem to take place in just over one very full and intense 24-hour period. It’s a day that involves the cure of Simon’s mother-in-law (described as taking place immediately after leaving the synagogue), a number of cures, the departure from Capernaum and traveling to Galilee. Jesus is engaged in urgent action, starting as early as this opening chapter of Mark’s Gospel.
The root word behind the adverb is not necessarily referring to at once in the passage of time. Rather, we are looking at a moral meaning. In Mark’s use, it seems to have more to do with the urgency of the Kingdom of God. There is an urgency in Jesus’ mission. There can be no holding back, no reticence and no reluctance. He is clearly a man on the move.
So, what does the urgency of Jesus mean for us? Urgency is something we know plenty about: work deadlines, medical emergencies, the care of the planet, the search for a vaccine for COVID and its distribution, and so on. Our urgent desires definitely connect to the passage of time, but there is also the other meaning of immediately, namely, something urgent in a moral sense.
There are times where the clock is ticking, but there are times when discernment and focus outweigh the benefits of a rushed job. The scientists working on a vaccine were in a hurry, but they had to make sure that they got it right, or else many other lives could be in danger. That is a truth about the work that many of us are about – a balance between urgent in the passage of time, and urgent in the significance of this task.
What about our urgency in terms of the Kingdom of God? I suppose that requires that we take seriously the words/actions of Jesus, things like the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. I wonder if they run the risk of being nice and comforting words.
We know that Jesus is not just trying to make us feel good. His urgency is a call to action for each one of us. What do I see as urgent in my life or in the world or the Church? How about in our nation’s life and in how the marginalized are treated?
It is significant to remember one little verse in today’s Gospel. It may have been an intense day, but it also included time to pray. “And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed” (1:35).