The Catechism of the Catholic Church – 28th January 2024
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Commentary 5th Sunday Ordinary Time B
Next Sunday’s Gospel begins with the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. It is interesting to note that the three disciples who were present when the deed of power was performed were Peter, James and John, who would also be present at the Transfiguration, when Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus to life, and when Jesus experienced his agony in the garden of Gethsemane. As soon as the woman was healed, she went about her normal work in the form of service of others.
This incident is followed by a very instructive passage in Mk 1:32-38. Late one evening Jesus arrived in a village after sunset, i.e., when the sabbath had ended. News of his coming spread quickly, and many sick and oppressed people were brought to him. We are told that “Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons.” Besides providing evidence of the powerful effectiveness of his ministry, this verse is interesting, because the word “many” may imply that, for one reason or another, Jesus didn’t heal and deliver all who were brought to him.
Quickly the scene changed: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” As a man of prayer, he often went off on his own to commune with his father. He would pull his tallit over his head, enter the tent of his heart, and he would pour out his feelings, concerns and desires to God. Then Yahweh would speak to him face to face as a Father does with his beloved Son (cf. Ex 33:11). Presumably, during this time, Jesus discerned, precisely, how his Father wanted him to carry out his mission. Remember how he made his God given mission statement when he declared in the synagogue of his native Nazareth, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”
Then the scene changed again. We are told that: “Simon and his companions went to search for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Because of his magnetic personality, his authoritative teaching, and deeds of power, it is not surprising that crowds of people were always longing to meet Jesus. After all, their needs were very real and pressing. Presumably, as soon as word spread, about the healings and exorcisms Jesus had performed the previous evening, many more people suffering from diseases, handicaps, and spiritual problems gathered in the village square hoping for his healing and liberating touch. In spite of his unquestionable compassion, Jesus replied: “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” In other words, the list of pastoral needs is virtually endless, but my evangelical priority is clear.
Many of us will suffer from burnout if, in the name of an undiscriminating compassion, we try to satisfy all of the pressing needs that lay claim to our response. Like Jesus we need to have a clear and conscious sense of what our core mission is. Then, after prayerful discernment, we need to focus our efforts on saying “yes” to our God given goals, and if needs be, having to say “no” to many pressing needs. Needless to say, we can and should try, with God’s help, to satisfy people’s legitimate needs in so far as they fit in with our evangelistic priorities and abilities.
The importance of making the distinction between priorities and needs is recognised by secular management’s Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule. It was named after esteemed Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto and specifies that 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes. Put simply it goes as follows. Imagine that a woman sits down at night and thinks of ten things she needs to do the following day. After some thought she goes on to number them in their order of importance from one to ten. If she tackles tasks numbers one and two the following day, 80% of her effectiveness will be derived from them. But only 20% will be derived from the other eight. If the woman failed to determine what her priorities were, she might end up taking the line of least he seemed to be saying, “I know that there is an endless succession of urgent pastoral needs. But in the name of the evangelical priority God has given me, sadly, I will have to resist these very genuine requests.”
Members of today’s Church, bishops, priests and lay people, have a lot to learn from this passage. As in New Testament times, we are faced by many pressing problems. We could seek the path of least resistance by focusing on needs three to ten. Although we might work very hard for many hours, the sad fact is, only 20% of our possible effectiveness would flow from concentrating on those tasks. It is no different for parishes, communities and Christian groups who fail to distinguish between priorities and needs. They may end up doing lots of well-intentioned work which will bear surprisingly little fruit.