Sermon, Year B, Epiphany 5, February 5, 2012
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Mark 1:29-39
Such a short passage this is, but filled with wonderful nuggets of treasure that are worth digging for and digging through. We could spend hours going over this one. And kickoff’s not for another six and a half hours so we have the time. Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Mark is a Gospel that moves very fast. The writer wastes no time on detail or exposition, long narrative, or backstory. Jeanny House and I were talking about this yesterday, and I had the that if the writer of Mark had written The Lord of the Rings, it would be a short story. Or War and Peace or any long novel you can think of. Mark moves us swiftly through the narrative, and Jesus moves swiftly. Jesus is always moving. So, in the spirit of Mark, let us move swiftly like a theological Don Driver and see if we can avoid earning a delay of game penalty and score some points as we tackle this scripture. (And I promise that is the end of the football metaphors, though there will be one example later.)
First, we’re still in chapter one of the Gospel Mark. And an awful lot has happened. This first chapter of Mark gives us, the readers, Mark sets up for us who Jesus is, what is his mission was about, and how he was going to do that mission. There is a lot packed into one chapter. And it begins right in the first sentence: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” No birth narrative, no twelve year old Jesus staying behind to debate rabbis in the temple and making his parents come back to retrieve him. Mark jumps right in. This book is about Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, who is the son of God. We know immediately who Jesus and can have that in our heads through the reading of the rest of the Gospel. That’s all the backstory we need about Jesus. He is the Son of God, and that’s enough. The next sentence is a quote from Isaiah, then John the Baptist appears out of nowhere in verse four. Even in just four verses of this Gospel, a lot has happened. John baptizes, tells the people in verse seven that one greater than he is coming, one who will baptize with fire, not with water. Then Jesus makes his first actual appearance when he is baptized in verse nine, the heavens open up in verse ten, in verse 11 the voice of God comes down, “This is my beloved in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus goes to the wilderness to pray, is tempted, lives with the wild beasts and is ministered to by angels in verses 12 and 13. Then John is taken into custody and Jesus goes to Galilee both in verse 14. Mark is moving. He is not wasting time. Jesus preaches repentance, calls Simon and Andrew, then James and John, goes to Capernaum, teaches in the synagogue, is recognized there as having divine-like authority to change reality or mold people’s perceptions of reality. The authority to change the idea of uncleanness. He casts an unclean spirit out of a man restoring him to wholeness of community and wholeness of life. That amazes everyone who was there and news about him went out everywhere in the surrounding district of Galilee. And that’s all through verse 28 where we finished last Sunday. It’s like scoring three touchdowns, two field goals in the first two minutes of play. So much packed in into this short bit.
If this were a novel, if you were this many words into a novel about all you would know is the name of the main character and maybe the day of the week the story is starting on. Mark has given us almost an entire week here and set up who Jesus is. Mark wastes no time, and Jesus wastes no time.
“And immediately,” the passage from today begins, “And immediately after they had come out of the synagogue, they came to the house of Simon and Andrew. And Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever.” Note the text says she is lying with a fever. She’s bed-ridden. She is not able to move around. They immediately speak to Jesus about her. “And he came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” Things happen so fast it can be difficult to find the time to breathe in the reading of this story and get a handle on what’s happening.
So let’s take a bit of a pause here and go through it. It’s still the Sabbath day that began in last Sunday’s passage when Jesus goes to the synagogue. So far on this day, Jesus has used the power of his word to command this unclean spirit to come out of a man in the synagogue and restore him to wholeness of spirit and community. And here Jesus has used the power of touch to remove the fever from Simon’s mother-in-law by taking her hand in this very intimate, physical moment of grace. To reach out, take her hand, and raise her up. She is restored as well and immediately begins to serve them. It is her role in this household to be in charge of hospitality. It is not uncommon at the time for one of the females in the house to be in charge of hospitality. But with her fever, though, she was bed-ridden. She was cut off from fulfilling her vocation of hospitality. She was incomplete in some ways. Jesus restores that back to her. Restores back to her her role. He doesn’t just remove her fever from her; he restores her to her rightful place. The place that she’s known. For many who have gone through sickness there can be that sense of incompleteness. Not able to do some of the things you used to be able to do. Not be able to be who you used to be. There can be some loss of self in that. Jesus gives back to her who she is. That is not to say the role of a woman is only that of a servant, but that for her this is likely her role. And in that place and time, it very much is. To be unclean, like the man in the synagogue, is to be cut off from God and from the religious community. To be sick, like Simon’s mother-in-law, is to be cut off from part of oneself, from wholeness of self.
So on this Sabbath day, Mark shows us that Jesus is one who breaks the law against work on the sabbath, including healing, by healing two people. And by doing so, he takes the Sabbath day, a day for restoration and re-creation, a time for us to rest and to again become who we are. Jesus turns this into a day of literal restoration and re-creation and fulfillment of the purpose of the day. Mark is showing us in all of this that Jesus’ mission and ministry is one of teaching, preaching, and healing. Specifically this restoration of wholeness of self and of one’s place in community and in God’s kingdom. That is who our Messiah is. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The laws of love greater than any other law, whether it be proscription against working on the Sabbath or the laws about ritual uncleanness that separate people from the community. Jesus says that what is most important is relation. What is most important is our human connection to one another, and our connectedness to God. Right relation that excludes no one from community and excludes no one from God’s Kingdom, God’s grace. At the end of the Sabbath day, at evening (Jewish days go from sundown to sundown, so sabbath begins Friday night and ends Saturday night) so as dusk comes, the people of the city (which Mark says was “everyone”) come to Simon’s house bringing their sick and possessed with demons, and he cured many. They come at dusk because they are faithful Jews and they are obeying the sabbath law. To bring someone who was sick would have counted as work so it had to wait until sundown. Even though Jesus has shown twice that healing on the sabbath is okay and good. That the restoration of one’s place in community trumps the law against work. Then in the darkness of night, early in the morning, Jesus goes off to pray in a deserted place. But he only gets to do that for one sentence, because then the disciples show up. They hunt him down. Great word in the Greek: hunt. To search with determination. They hunt for Jesus, and they find him, and say to him, “Hey—everyone is looking for you! Get back to town!” The disciples are telling Jesus what his job is. The mother-in-law did not do that to Jesus. Just sayin’. Women often get it, and the men often don’t.
I do wonder what the relation between Jesus and the disciples was like in these first days. They’ve only been together for at most a week. Maybe three or four days. What was it like in those first days? Clearly there was some tension. They want Jesus to go back to the house. Back to the city. Maybe set himself up as a healer there, and they could be his disciples. And they can be there in the hometown they know, in a house they know with their family and their friends in a comfortable place. Who wouldn’t want that? We can’t blame them for asking for that. But in that desolate place where they find Jesus, he responds, “Let us go to the neighboring towns so that I may proclaim there also; for that is what I came to do. And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.” He doesn’t even go back to the house. Always on the move. Always seeking out the people that he came to teach, and to touch, and to heal. Jesus is not a stagnant healer waiting for people to come to him, but goes out and meets the people where they are. And we’re still in chapter one, after all this. We have one more story of healing that we will read next week.
And though Mark likes “immediately” and doesn’t like to pause, we must wait patiently for that story. Though we need not ever wait for the healing word and healing hand of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whose Gospel we proclaim here and proclaim out there in Eau Claire outside these walls. The Gospel of love, of God’s hand stretched out to you saying, “Rise up my son, rise up my daughter, and be whole. Come and enter into the wholeness of life that you already have. That I have already given you. That is yours. And follow me.”
Let us pray: Precious Lord, take our hand, lead us on, let us stand. We are tired, we are weak, we are worn. through the storm, through the night, lead us on to the light. Take our hand, precious Lord, lead us home. Amen.
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