Jim Penczykowski’s Homily from February 4, 2024

Holy Wisdom MonasteryHomilies Leave a Comment

Labels and names will be my focus today as we try to locate the “good news” in the scripture of the day.

First off, labels and names are slippery and shaky.

For instance, to the English in 1431, Joan of Arc was a heretic.

But to the French, Joan was a martyr and saint.

In our day labels and names are used to paint persons and groups into a societal corner so they can be better exploited by the powerful and wanna be powerful.

For example, a person or group called a terrorist by one side might be called a freedom fighter by the other side.

And a person or group called treasonous by one side might be called patriotic by the other side.

Our scripture today may provide us with some insight and a lot of challenge around this business of name-calling and labeling.

Isaiah, chapter 40, has these verses about the stars in the sky,

“To whom then will you compare me,

          or who is my equal? Says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes on high and see:

          Who created these?

The One who brings out their host and numbers them,

          calling them all by name;

          because God is great in strength,

          mighty in power,

          not one is missing.”

The exiles in Babylon have grown accustomed to the ways of their captors and to the ways their captors worship the power of their gods, some of which share the name of celestial bodies.

The prophet wants to lay to rest the question, is the God of the Jews powerful or not?

And if the God of the Jews is powerful, then how did the Jews end up the vassals of Babylon?

The prophet Isaiah gives the reader many examples of God’s mighty power as creator.

The prophet also provides a new “name” for God, “Holy One,” to distinguish the God of the Jews from all others.

The Holy One outlasts the short-term interests of their Babylonian masters and the Babylonian gods – “God blows upon them and they wither, …”

The final verses of this passage could be used as a lectio divina this week.

The “Most High” gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless.

To quote: 

“…but those who wait for the Most High shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles,                                           they shall run and not be weary,                                                                 they shall walk and not faint.”

In short, the fate of the weak and insignificant of this world are of ultimate concern to the Holy One of Israel.

The psalm response, # 147, echoes what the prophet reveals about the Holy One.

Bless God, my soul, who heals the broken-hearted.

Blessed are your children.

Gather all your lost ones.

You bind up every wound.

You number all the stars of night and call each one by name.

Our gospel passage in the first chapter of Mark’s account is “A day in the life.” description of Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus, fresh from synagogue on Shabbat, enters the home of the newly minted disciples, Simon Peter, and Andrew.

We do not know what Simon Peter’s spouse thought of this development, since he had not the means to call ahead.

Nevertheless, the action first turns to addressing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who is in bed with a fever.

This is likely an eyewitness account since Matthew and Luke also include the event and have reason to do so.

Our translation today says Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up.

The same verb in Greek is used to describe Jesus’ resurrection, which is God raised him up.

For Mark’s early readers, there would have been an immediate recognition that this is a foretaste of what is to come.

It is also an early Christian understanding of the dynamic of salvation.

The unknowable God of the Mosaic covenant desires union with creation in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

In turn, the followers of Jesus now participate in that same divine life and are commissioned to serve.

Her grateful service is hospitality.

But it is not menial work; for the follower has the teacher as a model of service.

One of the wittier comments of recent years is, “Healed, just in time to make dinner.”

By the end of Shabbat, the whole city has gathered around the door to have Jesus cure their sick and diseased and to cast out demons.

A few thoughts here about why so great a number of people then and now need the healing touch of Jesus.

“History is written by the victors.”

That statement implies that the “winner” of a war can spin the meaning or interpretation of the “win” as they see fit and generations to follow will accept the legacy.

Ancient Rome’s rule over the Mediterranean Sea and all the land that surrounded it has often been titled the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome. Those who dominated during that time approved of that spin on their role in subjugating and oppressing tens of millions of human persons.

Part of the “spin” of any oppressor is how much better everyone is doing than when they were free to pursue their own ways.

Ancient Rome, however, left people like the Jews of Palestine much worse off economically and, as a result, many Jews had very uncertain lives with excessive amounts of stress and poor physical and mental health.

Consider, for instance, the plight of day laborers then and now.

If waiting at the assigned spot each day hoping someone will hire you and pay you so you can feed your family seems demeaning, consider the insecurity you would feel daily that you might get sick and be unable to work.

Jesus announces a reign of God in which the people will be healed of sickness and demonic possession.

But healed now, not just to return to the day labor, but to serve as Jesus served.

But not all perceive Jesus’ healing as part of God’s plan for a new creation.

Some want him to ride the wave of fame as a miracle worker.

Some want him to confront the Roman occupiers.

Here we come to the naming and labeling point again.

Jesus will not allow anyone to paint him into a corner by attaching labels to him.

Those distract from his message of God’s immanence, God’s desire to assume our createdness and fill it to the brim with divine life.

Some who are healed will remain open to the rest of the miracle.

Still others will settle for the cure of what immediately ails them,        not seeking for the more complete healing that leads to a life of service to others.

Even the early followers do not get it, that Jesus is not interested in the fame that attaches to his display of authority and healing power.

Healed so we may serve.

And perhaps Jesus learned this from elders such as Peter’s mother-in-law.

The following poem from Maren Tirabassi can be found in a blog post entitled, How She Taught the Teacher Communion

Jesus lifted her up,
forehead burning virus and all,
and fever was broken,
compassion poured,
and, in gratitude for what he did for her,
she broke bread for them
poured wine into their cups.
and served them all …

As evening fell, others came ¬–
with illnesses of mind and body,
gaping holes of loss,
and he healed them through the night
as they clamored at the door,

but he had time to watch,
as she baked bread after bread, fried fish,
opened jugs of olive oil,
lifted a cup always running over.

And Jesus thought,
as dawn came up in prayer –
when I go,
perhaps this serving,
and these old hands of love

is what I shall leave behind
in remembrance of me.


Maren Tirabassi, blog post called “How She Taught the Teacher Communion.”

All Powerful and Ever-Living God, send your spirit on those who rule the nations of this world; turn the eyes of those in power toward the poor and suffering, we pray …

Good Shepherd, send your spirit on religious leaders; keep them humble and close to their people and help them to counsel wisely in our polarized society, we pray …

God who inspires hope, grant us the serenity and courage we need at the start of each new day to do what is in our power to do for the sake of building up your reign, we pray ….

For the Benedictine Women of Madison, that they will grow in love and in numbers, we pray …

For all those listed in our book of intentions and for those whom we mention now quietly or silently, —– we pray …

Jesus, Savior, help us to be a living sign of the unity that should exist between all people; make us more truly the sacrament of salvation for all as we enter into the Eucharist that signifies and creates unity.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *