RCL Year B Epiphany 5
Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147:1-12 and 21c, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Saint Mark 1:29-39

Some time ago, I heard about a parish several hundred miles away. That parish has a striking motto: “Make the main thing the main thing.” That parish has identified its ministry, and they say their ministry is to make disciples who make disciples. They know that the church isn’t a destination. It isn’t an end in itself. It isn’t a stopping place. It isn’t the end. The church is more like a station on the way. It’s a community whose main thing is sharing the good news of God in Jesus Christ. It’s a community whose survival depends on growth, at least the growth of handing down the faith to the next generation. We have to grow and to hand the faith over to other disciples to be faithful to our Lord and to do what God calls us to do.

Make the main thing the main thing. Our Lord makes the main thing the main thing in the Gospel today. Jesus keeps the main thing the main thing most especially when he 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.”[1] All his success in ministry up to this point had been in Capernaum. The curing of unclean spirits, the healings, even the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, had all been in Capernaum.

But he knows that he must go forward, like any person or any parish. Past successes are, well, in the past. Miracles had been performed. People had been cured. The entire city was at the door. His ministry had met with no opposition, as it would later meet in Jerusalem. But the main thing must be the main thing. He must proclaim the message not only in Capernaum but also in Galilee, in the neighboring towns. 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.”[2] It would be so easy to stay there, to rest on his laurels, but more awaits him. Capernaum was safe, but roaming around Galilee was uncertain. Roaming around the villages and towns of Galilee allows him to follow the way God has set before him. It will not be what the disciples want. It will not be what the people want. But it will be what God has determined.

At most every point in its history, every parish faces similar choices. Do we go back to Capernaum, do we try to become what we were once upon a time, or, do we step out into an unknown and different future? Do we please the people back home, or do we seek to be faithful to God’s call? Do we keep the treasure of the Gospel to ourselves, or do we spread that treasure through our community and the world? Parishes everywhere need to recognize the tension and the opportunity of Jesus Christ, the “same yesterday and today and forever”[3], and, on the other hand, God’s power to make “all things new.”[4]

As all of us, together, strive to be well-organized enough, efficient enough, and vigorous enough to be smooth-running and successful at proclaiming the kingdom of God, let us remember one thing: “The Lord is at my side, therefore I will not fear; * what can anyone do to me?”[5]

[1] Saint Mark 1:38.

[2] Saint Mark 1:38.

[3] Hebrews 13:8.

[4] Revelation 21:5.

[5] Psalm 118:6.