Obedience and Life
Fifth Sunday of the Year. Fr Denis Geraghty considers the meaning of the Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus in word and in power.
In the opening chapter of St Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit – a vivid and dramatic opening of his ministry. He is not led, he is driven, almost as if by a power beyond his control.
‘The Kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the Gospel’, he tells us. What is this Kingdom? Essentially, it is a proclamation of the rule of God. Today’s Gospel seems to tell us what this rule looks like. Our acceptance of the Kingdom calls both for belief and for obedience to God’s rule, and Jesus offers us today the perfect pattern of obedience.
This pattern lies in the submission of Jesus to his Father, not as a mindless drone or a victim but as one who perfectly reflects the love that unites the Son to the Father. As St Paul tells us in Philippians 2, Jesus was ‘obedient even unto death, death on a cross’, and this obedience is the root and cause of his exaltation, because it is an expression of love. And this is what he asks of us, in order that we may belong to his Kingdom.
With this in mind, we can see how the Gospel shows us the marks of God’s rule in the person of Jesus: he speaks with an authority never seen before; he has power over sickness, shown when he heals Peter’s mother-in-law; he has dominion over the powers of evil, as when the disciples bring to him those who are possessed by demons. He performs his miracles not simply for their own sake but to give us signs that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’. These signs point, too, towards who Jesus is – to his identity as the Christ.
There is something sad as well as dramatic about this description of Jesus’s ministry. We are called to understand and to feel compassion towards those who are brought to him: desperate people, who perhaps do not really understand who Jesus is. But they have nothing to lose, and when they encounter him and his healing power they find their lives transformed.
So, we are given in today’s Gospel an image of Jesus as totally self-giving, holding nothing back of his power to heal and to transform. He accepts with extraordinary patience the intrusions into his life that do not even give him time alone to pray. His rule and his Kingdom are to extend to all people, to the whole world, not just to Galilee.
As we consider these signs of God’s Kingdom, let us reflect on the obedience of Jesus to his Father that makes it manifest, and consider also our own obedience to the Father as members of his Kingdom. It must be an obedience that goes beyond merely obeying laws, just as Jesus is far more than simply another moral teacher. The obedience of Jesus is the love that unites him to the Father.
And the Spirit that drove Jesus, in obedience, out into the wilderness is the source of our divine life. The Trinitarian life that is within us is therefore dynamic: it drives us forwards. Through the Holy Spirit we are untied with Christ. We are his friends, his brothers and sisters, for through him and in him we are able to call God our Father.
We can be sure that, just as the exaltation of Jesus sprang from his obedient love, so it will be with us; from the pain and even the wreckage of our human existence, there will be a transformation to eternal life and happiness.