FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then, the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” Mk. 1:31.
Pope Francis has asked that today, February 8, be celebrated throughout the world as the first-ever International Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking.
The trafficking of human beings has become such a monumentally pervasive evil that it now affects some 36 million people throughout the world and generates more than $150 billion in profit! It is now thought to be one of the fastest growing activities involving criminal organizations.
The Pope calls this horrifying reality “a crime against humanity.” The primary objective of this day, then, is to “create greater awareness about this phenomenon and to reflect on the overall situation of violence and injustice that affect so many people, who have no voice, do not count, and are no one: they are simply slaves.”
As the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson, reports that this day of prayer is meant to be a mobilization on a global scale. “Our awareness must expand and extend to the very depths of this evil and its farthest reaches – from awareness to prayer … from prayer to solidarity … and from solidarity to concerted action, until slavery and trafficking are no more.”
This day of prayer is intended to do two things:
“First, is a lament in the biblical sense: ‘We want to cry out in the name of all the victims (and ask), ‘Until when, Lord?’”
“Secondly, We want to light up the world, that is, to bring hope to those who are without hope.”
For us to get a grasp of what is involved in this modern form of slavery, it’s important to remember that a whole spectrum of atrocities are typically forced upon those human beings who are victims.
Among these horrifying outrages are: terrible violence, deprivation of freedom, being guarded and shamed and degraded by their “owners,” raped repeatedly, threatened, bought and sold, forced into silence, and, in many cases, killed.
According to Crux, a Boston Globe Catholic website, parishes around the world today are organizing prayer vigils. An interactive website has also been developed: A Light Against Human Trafficking. This site contains the testimony of victims, survivors, and family members of those killed in slavery, as well as a prayer service. I highly recommend you check it out.
What breaks our hearts the most, of course, is the trafficking of children. Some 4.5 million children per year are exploited by traffickers. Women, however, are the most trafficked.
Today’s gospel tells the story of a woman. At the time in which this gospel was written, and at the time in which Jesus of Nazareth was teaching and healing, women constituted a position of utter powerlessness. They were considered to be second or third class citizens and often were victims of terrible brutality. They were not a person. They were property.
So, why would Jesus bother with her? Why would this simple woman be the very first person that Jesus heals after his casting out the demon in the story we heard last week?
The answer can only be: because that’s who Jesus is. The whole purpose in Mark writing this Gospel was to tell the story of the “beginning of the good news.” (1:1) Good News is precisely what the word “Gospel” means:
A fresh start is now available. A new beginning can now be made. A different way of experiencing the world can now be possible.
And so Jesus begins this story of Good News by healing a woman.
Three things in particular strike me about this story. First, is the efficiency of Jesus’ action. He says no words, offers no prayers, and performs no command. He simply walks up to the woman, takes her by the hand, and lifts her up from her “fevered” state. It reminds me of how people were so impressed with Jesus because he teaches as “one with authority.” Here we see that he not only speaks with authority, but he heals in the same way.
Second, is the willingness of Jesus, right from the beginning of his ministry, to break the rules. The good news he preaches and teaches is now seen right before everyone’s eyes. Even women are now freed! Even women are included in the kingdom of love and peace and justice that he preaches. Even women are no longer slaves to a domination system that has disempowered them.
Third, is the response of the healed woman. She gets up and immediately serves a meal – her way of best engaging people. Her response to her new freedom is generous service. In doing so, she demonstrates for those disciples present and for two millennia of future disciples, like you and me, what the proper response to an encounter with Jesus’ gospel message looks like: service, generosity, sharing the good news of a God who loves everyone equally.
That message she sent so long ago resonates to our own day. We need to respond with equal generosity and service to those who need to be lifted up from the “fever” of injustice, of despair, of indescribable torture, of any further degradation.
Pope Francis is asking us today to become aware, to focus our attention on one of the most gigantic evils of our time. He’s even going so far as to play the role of Jesus in today’s gospel by inviting us to join him in taking hold of this new awareness and lifting it up off its sick bed by protesting in every way we can that this enormous wickedness must be brought to an end.
Let us join him today, and every day, in reaching out and bringing the Good News of an end to this heinous form of slavery.
Perhaps we can at the very least join in praying the official prayer for this day:
“O God, when we hear of children and adults deceived and taken to unknown places for purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labor, and organ ‘harvesting,’ our hearts are saddened and our spirits angry that their dignity and rights are ignored through threats, lies, and force. We cry out against the evil practice of this modern slavery, and pray with St. Bakhita for it to end. Give us wisdom and courage to reach out and stand with those whose bodies and spirits have been so wounded, so that together we may make real your promises to fill these sisters and brothers with a love that is tender and good. Send the exploiters away empty-handed to be converted from this wickedness, and help us all to claim the freedom that is your gift to your children. Amen.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.