~ Mark 1: 29-39 ~
It’s already been a full Saturday morning, filled with excitement, astonishment – much drama. Mark, the gospel storyteller, has Jesus appearing in public for the first time in the busy cosmopolitan town of Capernaum on the shores of Galilee. He comes to the synagogue, does some teaching and, oh, casts out a demon accompanied with shouts of accusation and severe convulsing. And the people were quite amazed and immediately started spreading the word of Jesus’ fame around the countryside. And that was just the morning. The day continues… Reading from Mark 1:29-39:
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting
So after synagogue they all go over to Simon and Andrew’s house for lunch (Simon is Peter, by the way). And instead of lunch they find Peter’s mother-in-law sick in bed. Now, I suppose according to well established preacher tradition I’m supposed to tell a mother-in-law joke at this point, but I’ll refrain. But the fact is she’s sick.
How sick she was is not the issue. The fact that Jesus extends his healing touch in the privacy of her home is the issue. In the flow of Mark’s story, however, it helps set up a theme. Throughout Mark we see the theme of ebb and flow. Jesus out in the public arena, contending with the crowds, and then retreating to the home, or the wilderness, or just to be alone. This public/private dynamic shows up continually, with the public consistently exerting pressure on the private. No matter where he goes to retreat the crowds follow, pressing Jesus to perform his works of healing, pressuring Jesus to proclaim himself as Messiah. But more about that later. First he is in the quite retreat of Peter’s home. Peter’s mother-in-law has received the antibiotics of Jesus’ healing touch and immediately she is up and about taking care of her guests. Mom’s just kind of do that don’t they? Whether they’re sick or not they are always looking to take care of others. And so Jesus spends the rest of the day with Peter’s family. It’s been quite a day. But it’s not over.
Sundown arrives. Our story says that “they” brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. Now, we don’t know who “they” are. But the time of day is quite significant. It is after sundown, after the Sabbath has ended. This is an important symbolic marker in Mark’s story. By waiting until the Sabbath is over to do the “work” of healing Mark is setting us up for those times later in the story when Jesus will deliberately do the “work” of healing on the Sabbath, thus getting those who monitor such activity, the scribes and Pharisees, really upset. So this one moment in the story, this moment at the end of the day, after the Sabbath is over, is not just a throw away thing. It is very significant for the development of the plot of the gospel story.
Jesus spends all evening healing and casting out unclean spirits. Now that sounds exhausting to me. This is getting to be a real long day. You know, no matter where you’re at on the issue of who Jesus was—a great prophet or the Son of God—there is no doubt that he was a healer. Now, that did not make him unique in the culture of Israel in the 1st century. There were many healers who roamed the countryside; many magicians renowned for their ability to heal. In the world of ancient Palestine the fact that Jesus healed was not what made him distinctive. It was what the healing meant that made all the difference. For most it was all about fame and reputation. But not for Jesus. He was not out to get famous. He did not heal in order to make a name for himself. Indeed, he tried real hard to stop people from talking about their cures. But his fame spread throughout the countryside despite his efforts to keep it quiet.
There is a lot of sickness in the world these days. There has always been a lot of sickness in the world. But this past year the world has experienced more than usual, exceedingly more than usual. COVID-19 had wrought great havoc, filling our hospitals, killing our fellow humans. It has done a number on us all in ways we don’t even realize. And we look to doctors and nurses and janitorial staff and scientists feverously creating vaccines to heal us of this devastating ailment. And we look to those vital vaccines get us past this thing so we can all be healed…and be together in person once again.
But COVID-19 is not the only malady that creates havoc. This past Thursday, February 4, was World Cancer Day. It is a fact that cancer is a leading cause of premature death in every country in the world. About one out of six people worldwide die from cancer. Many of us have undergone cancer treatments in the past. Some are currently engaged with treatments. For those who are doing the hard work of dealing with cancer personally, and all the providers and scientists around the world engaged in finding cures, we pray.
So we pray for those who are sick and often don’t know what quite to pray for. Maybe all we can do is pray according to the words of a hymn:
O Christ, the healer, we have come
to pray for health, to plead for friends.
How can we fail to be restored
when reached by love that never ends?
From every ailment flesh endures
our bodies clamor to be freed;
Yet in our hearts we would confess
that wholeness is our deepest need.
Indeed, “wholeness” is the message Mark’s gospel strives to impress. Jesus did not just heal physical ailments. Every individual physical healing in the gospel is a symbolic statement of wholeness. The sick are restored to wholeness–bodily wholeness, family wholeness, community wholeness, spiritual wholeness, yes, even social and political wholeness. Jesus was not a magical healer like so many others just out to make a name for himself. Jesus was a restorer of lives broken by separation from God, extending grace and abundance to those who had been told they don’t qualify.
Yes, it was a long day! But it wasn’t over yet. Jesus somehow was able to get a little sleep but awoke very early, while it was still dark and he went out alone to find wholeness for himself. Ebb and flow. Service and retreat. Activity and rest. We all need it. We need it in the actual flow of the day. And we need it in the very way we perceive our faith journeys. I often talk about it in terms of grace and justice. We embrace and rest in God’s grace to find restoration and wholeness for ourselves so we can then do the work of God’s justice in this world so that others may experience that very same wholeness from the grace of God. Another verse from the hymn I quoted before says this:
Grant that we all, made one in faith,
in your community may find
The wholeness that, enriching us,
shall reach the whole of humankind.
Jesus’ friends went our looking for him. They said, “Hey, Jesus, where have you been? Everyone is looking for you.” And Jesus stood up and said, “OK. Let’s go. We’ve got work to do.” Amen.