04 February 2018

Important Connections

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
Readings:Jb 7:1-4, 6-7; Ps 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6;1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39

The Gospel story this Sunday tells us by way of details what keeps Jesus’ public ministry grounded and His mission on course. These are His important connections, and there are at least three of them.

Connection with Family and Friends. In the Gospel story, Jesus took time off his public schedule to stay as guest at the house of Peter and Andrew, with two more close friends, James and John. There he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Like the rest of us, Jesus too enjoys the company of family and friends.  In John 15,15, He turns this into a lesson: "I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”

Our family and friends are a gift from God. Children learn how to love from the way their parents love them. Best friends keep us grounded and are there for us through challenging times. Earnest lovers bring out the best in each other. What do we do to show how we value and love the important people in our lives? Or do we often take them for granted?

Connection with the Poor and those in Need. Jesus public ministry was purposive: He would like to reach out to as many children of Israel as His limited time allowed. The sick and the lost may have sought Him but it was He who sought them first. They are His mission. In Mt 25, 40 and 45, He taught His disciples that taking care of the poor and suffering is a basic requirement for salvation: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Have we connected with a poor person, or one in need, lately?

These days in Albay with Mayon Volcano erupting and thousands in evacuation centers, I am privileged to see so many of these connections unfolding. It is present in those who come in from other places just to help, in local businesses that offer their services at big discounts or even for free, in public servants that daily go beyond the call of duty, in church workers of different faiths working together, in volunteers and donors who ask for nothing but the opportunity to serve, and in evacuees who take care of those whose needs are greater than their own. There is another word for it: solidarity, the main stuff that resilient communities are made of.

Connection with God. Most important of all is Jesus’ connection with the Father. In several passages in the Gospel, He would go off to some lonely place to pray early in the morning or the whole night. In Mt 6,9-13 and Lk 11,2-4, when His disciples saw Him praying and asked Him how to pray, He told them to call God our Father, to seek His Kingdom and His will, to ask for daily blessing, and forgive as He forgives. In short, to center our lives to God.

Our connection with God purifies our loves and sanctifies our good works. In Mt 12,50, Jesus says: “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” In Mt 19,21, when asked how to gain eternal life, He replied: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” How much time in the day do we devote to prayer and strengthening our connection with God?

One more insight about connection, I learned in the course of running our community-based rehab program for substance users. The author Johann Hari says: “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection.” Meaningful connections and relationships are the key to healing and life-long recovery as opposed to the false joy and alienation offered by drugs and other addictions.

God offers fullness of life and freedom from sin, to attain them we need to value and sustain our most important connections.