Jesus has begun his ministry in the region of Galilee, called to
fisherman along the shore of the Sea of Galilee who have dropped
everything and followed him. Immediately they went on to Capernaum
and went to synagogue, where Jesus taught: not the weak, insipid
teaching of the professional scribes, but teaching with authority:
as one who is inspired and empowered. Folks are amazed and impressed.
And then, right in the middle of the synagogue, an unclean spirit
who is in possession of a man there cries out: Why are you here,
Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are; the Holy One of God! And
Jesus commands the unclean spirit to be silent and leave the man;
which it does. Again, the people are amazed by Jesus’ power
Jesus’ teaching and this healing/exorcism are two parts of
the same event -- they are each described in terms of Jesus’
authority to interpret the holy writings and to rebuke the power
of evil, and the people respond in an identical way: they are amazed
-- the call the exorcism a “new teaching” -- at Jesus’
command of the situation.
Our text for today begins immediately after this teaching and healing
in the synagogue: verse 29 says, “As soon as they left the
synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James
and John.” Jesus has exactly four disciples at this point,
but his fame is beginning to spread, as we will see. The house of
Simon and Andrew had to be close to the synagogue, because there
were prohibitions about how far you were allowed to walk on the
Sabbath. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever; Jesus
goes to her and takes her by the hand and lifts her up, the fever
leaves her, and she begins to serve them. There are a lot of interesting
things packed into that short description.
Here are some of the things which stood out to me: if Simon (later
be known as Simon Peter, the Rock) has a mother-in-law, he is married.
We don’t ever hear anything about his wife -- not when Jesus
is in their house, not when Simon just left her to follow a wandering
rabbi, not when her mother is in bed with a fever. This is another
healing, but it is a different kind of healing than what Jesus just
did in the synagogue: a fever is probably a sign of a serious illness,
one for which there would have been no antibiotics for other treatment,
but a fever is not caused by a demon or an unclean spirit. Jesus
doesn’t rebuke the fever, or even speak to her. Jesus takes
her by the hand: a ministry of touch and compassion, and lifts her
up. It is the same verb which Mark uses at the end of his gospel
to describe Jesus’ resurrection. That cannot be a coincidence.
This woman is not simply hauled out of bed; she is lifted up; she
is given hope and purpose.
Her purpose has made some modern readers bristle, because as soon
as the fever leaves her, she begins to serve the men in her home.
I think Mark has a different -- or at least a broader purpose --
than his cultural expectation of women serving men. This is a healing
story: an account of someone who was sick and Jesus made well; someone
who was broken and Jesus made whole. The calling and teaching and
healing which we’ve been talking about over the past few weeks
are all tied together: all of these characters in Mark’s account
share something with each one of us: we are called and taught and
healed so that we can serve Jesus. We are called to follow Jesus,
taught to know Jesus, and healed to serve Jesus. That is the heart
of Mark’s gospel, and why there are so few other details to
distract from that message.
We are just three verses in to today’s text. Mark packs it
in. Suddenly Jesus’ healing ministry expands exponentially:
once the sun sets and the Sabbath is over, anyone who is able to
walk or limp or hobble or be carried, all who are sick or possessed
by demons come to Simon’s house to see Jesus. Mark says, “the
whole city was gathered around the door”; that is quite an
image; this whole entourage of the ill converging on Simon’s
house at sunset. And Jesus heals them. There is no distinction between
healing and teaching, between body and spirit. For Jesus, they are
part of the same ministry, and Jesus stays up into what had to be
a very long night.
And in the morning, Mark tells us, while it was still very dark,
Jesus got up and went to a deserted place to pray. I can imagine
that Jesus needed time away from the demands of teaching and healing,
some time to renew his spirit and reconnect with God. It’s
a little respite for Jesus. And the next episode is one which any
caregiver or parent or ministering person can probably relate to.
The disciples wake up and Jesus is gone. They go looking for him
-- and one of my commentaries said we often miss the strong, hostile
tone of Mark’s language: it’s more like the disciples
hunt Jesus down, to say , “Everyone is searching for you!”
the sub-text is What are you doing here? Why aren’t you helping
us? Everybody is looking for you! The whole town of Capernaum wants/needs/has
to have something from you right now!” I can understand the
disciple’s sense of urgency: there was probably a whole new
shift of sick and demon-possessed folks who showed up at Simon’s
house at sunrise, and the disciples didn’t know what to do
with them. They were fisherman, not healers. A bunch of sick folks
pounding at the door would send anybody out to hunt Jesus down.
And Jesus’ response is characteristic both of his calling
and Mark’s emphasis: “Let’s go on to the neighboring
towns so I can share the good news there, too.” Notice that
Jesus and Mark once again treat proclaiming and healing as the same
thing. And just in case we don’t get it, Mark ends this section
by saying that Jesus went throughout Galilee proclaiming the message
and casting out demons. Again teaching and healing.
We have certainly heard a lot about physical illness in the past
ten months. The pandemic has affected our physical health, global
economy, political discourse, and family and church gatherings.
A fundamental truth of our Christian faith is that our spirits need
healing, as well. Not just from the evil of sin, but from brokenness
and grief and despair. We are in a pandemic of both body and spirit.
Pandemic, of course, comes from Greek roots meaning “All the
people.” Our need for healing is pandemic -- that is, all
people need healing. The good news, sisters and brothers, is that
the gospel of Jesus Christ is pandemic as well. It is good news
for all people, which is to be taken to all nations. It is healing
for broken spirits and fevered lives, it is being lifted up from
despair to love and serve Jesus Christ. The teaching of Jesus Christ
is powerful, and has the authority to change our lives and give
us purpose, if we are willing to listen and follow. The Word of
God is for all people, for this town and the neighboring towns.
In a time of sickness and despair, Christ has the power to teach
and heal all the people.
May God bless you and keep you and make you whole. Amen.