Simon and his companions set out in search of him, and when they found him they said, ‘Everybody is looking for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came’ … (Excerpt from the Gospel of the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Mark 1:29-39)
Wasn’t it a good thing that people were going about looking for Jesus? Wasn’t it aligned with God’s will that people should look for Jesus in order to find the Good News and in turn, experience healing and see the face of God? Why “go elsewhere” when there were people — “everybody”, in fact — looking for Jesus?
However, at a deeper layer, what was the real impetus — indeed, the ultimate intention — for this search for Jesus? The Gospels of the past few days reveal that Jesus had been very active in ministry, healing and curing many people grieved with sickness and death. To those who were looking for Jesus, then, was Jesus merely a miracle-worker, one who solved the problems of others and hence, met a certain need? Was Jesus then the convenient panacea for the illness of society?
Were people ultimately looking for Jesus or were they just looking for the things that he could do, in particular, the miracles that he could perform? How was Jesus, therefore, able to freely depart to another town without feeling obliged to meet the needs and expectations of the people?
Marrying this question (or rather, the many rambling questions that I listed above) to something that I read yesterday upon completing The Genesee Diary reveals a recurring emphasis on distance, detachment and inner freedom:
As long as I am constantly concerned about what I “ought” to say, think, do, or feel, I am still the victim of my surroundings and am not liberated. I am compelled to act in certain ways to live up to my self-created image. But when I can accept my identity from God and allow him to be the centre of my life, I am liberated from compulsion and can move without restraints.
Indeed, Jesus epitomises this sense of inner freedom because he knew his core identity and that he was the “beloved” whom God was “well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17). It is this very knowledge that foregrounded his ministry and his discipleship of others. He was not as concerned as meeting other people’s expectation of him than doing the will of The Lord. He was not sucked into his surroundings because God was the centre of his life. He left for the neighbouring country towns even though so many people were looking for him simply because “that is why [he] came”.
How often have I shortchanged myself when I haphazardly pacified the crowds that were looking for me? How often, have I fed my ego — my selfish, self-seeking and self-centered ego – when I felt that tinge of pride and recognition to know that people were looking for me? How often have I thereafter suffered burn-out, spiritual fatigue and immense desolation? Was I then bringing people to The Lord or was I bringing people to myself? Was I allowing myself to be God’s instrument or was I playing God?
How often have I spread myself so thin without retreating “to a lonely place” “to pray” and to get reacquainted with The Lord? How can I possibly go about in ministry when my inner core is so tumultuous, so “noisy” and so constricted with expectations?
Both today’s Gospel and the ending portions of The Genesse Diary reiterated one common thread to me: that I need to be assured of my identity as the Beloved. I need to first recognise my true identity as a son of God, well-pleased and unconditionally loved. Only then will I have the healthy detachment to discern when to say “no” and where to say “let’s go elsewhere”. Such interior freedom is contingent on prayer, meditation and solitude. Because at the end of the day, it is highly plausible that the “no” I say to others (possibly even to good things), frees me up and liberates me further to say “yes” to the right thing — to say “yes” to God.
I hope that my prayer — and indeed my entire life — can gradually echo the words of Mary: “I am The Lord’s servant”, “May it be done unto me according to Thy word” (Luke 1:38).