Jesus of Nazareth is the long-awaited Saviour. He knows this himself and he lets it be known by his actions and by his words. In this particular Gospel passage, the characterisation of Jesus as authoritative teacher and preacher is deepened and given durative extension across the narrative. The conclusion is a complex one and tends to be the focus of the story. The departure of Jesus from the crowd characterises him in terms of prayer and preaching. Indeed, his going out to preach with his disciples orients the narrative portrait of Jesus away from crowds and miracles and toward his more ultimate destiny.
After curing Simon’s mother in-law, and many others in the town who were sick or possessed by devils, Jesus arises and goes ‘out’. We observe how he goes ‘away’ and ‘into’ a lonely place. In this lonely place, Jesus prays. All four evangelists point to Jesus praying on particularly important occasions during his public ministry. St. Mark refers to Jesus’ prayer at three solemn moments: here, at the beginning of his public ministry (1:35), in the middle of it (6:46), and at the end in Gethsemane (14.32). In each case, Jesus’ prayer is a prayer of petition for himself and for us. It is a prayer of perfect praise and thanksgiving because he is God’s beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased (Mk 1:11). Jesus’ prayer, as we see in very many Gospel passages, was a continuous petition to the Father for the work of redemption. We learn that prayer is necessary if preaching is to be effective.
Jesus’ departure to this lonely place demonstrates a crucial character trait of Jesus – at times he must withdraw from miracle-seeking crowds in order to proclaim the Gospel. In this manner, the activity at Capernaum is defined as preaching/teaching and is made, prophetically, the central focus of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus himself states the motivation for the departure, ‘let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can proclaim the message there too, because that is why I came’. This motivation also provides an instance of plot recollection in which the activity at Capernaum is (re)defined retrospectively as preaching. In this manner, teaching and preaching become narrative synonyms. The narrative employs this complex series of operations to portray Jesus’ departure in its ultimate sense – it is an exodus in which he has been sent out to preach the Gospel.
In this weeks Gospel passage Jesus reminds us that his mission is to preach, to spread the good news. He was sent for this purpose. The apostles, in turn, were chosen by Jesus to be preachers (Mk 3:14; 16:15). Each of us, too, are invited to share in the proclamation of this good news. Faith comes from hearing, we are told in Romans (10:17), where St. Paul enthusiastically quotes Isaiah – ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!’ (Rom 10: 15; Is 52:7). To be a follower of Jesus is not about displaying our good works before crowds. Rather, like the apostles in this passage, we must be prepared to search for Jesus in the lonely places, and having spent time with him in prayer, we can then bring healing to those whom we encounter through our preaching.