Scripture for Sunday, 4 February (Epiphany 5):
Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21C; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
The past week was the occasion of the Synod (annual meeting) of the Archdeaconry of Gibraltar. More than 120 of us, clergy and laity, spent time with two bishops and our archdeacon to focus on the way in which we conduct our ministry. This year, the theme of the Synod was, “How do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” And a lot of emphasis was placed upon the refugee crisis both within Europe and beyond. Several speakers addressed the way in which this crisis is being addressed, and the way it both challenges and encourages our Christian mission.
Retired Bishop Michael Colclough also led the clergy in a day wherein we were invited to reconnect with the original joy that led us to ordination. In addressing the whole Synod, Bishop Michael spoke of the way in which we come for communion. Most of us stretch out our hands to receive the body of Christ. But as we do so, we outstretch a part of ourselves – a representative part of all of ourselves – in offering.
It sparked a thought within me that those who come to us as migrants or refugees also have been depicted as having their hands outstretched, and we assume that they come to receive. But perhaps we might ponder what they have to offer, also. To the cynic’s question about what they have to offer, Christ would offer the answer: look behind the obvious and you might see.
Today’s scripture can be seen to address this from two angles. The first, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, asks us: what is the purpose of healing, if not to take up service for Christ?
The second, the Apostle Paul’s famous statement about being all things to all people, exacts a challenge, not only to consider how well we can put ourselves in the place of others, in empathy, but also to recognise that we cannot, in all truth, really be all things: we carry limitations of culture, experience, background and so on. Recognising this, we might approach those who are different from us in humility, truly acknowledging those limitations.
We all have something within us that can be touched by our fellow human beings, especially those who suffer. Our challenge as Christians is to channel that into some form of tangible action, in Christian ministry.
Given that we come to the Eucharistic table not only to receive, but to offer ourselves, Christ asks us to be willing to give what we can to those who come to us with hands outstretched – but also, sincerely try to discern just what they might have to offer to us. Those of us who share the experience of trying to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land might be surprised by what these “others” have to give to us.