Let me re-read for you the Gospel passage for today that we heard just before:
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 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.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”
38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
What stands out for you in this passage? What is your first impression of it?
- Jesus healing someone who is sick
- Jesus healing a woman
- The woman serving Jesus and the others
- The whole town gathering at the door to be cured or to see that happen
- Jesus hurrying away on his own to pray
- Simon and his companions looking for Jesus and wanting him to come back
- Jesus going off to other towns to preach and cast out demons.
There is just so much in this passage of just a few verses.
The Gospel of Mark is known to be the first book written about the life of Jesus, with Matthew and Luke following and then John. It always seems a pity to me that the New Testament hasn’t been structured in that way but then we would be starting with a story that doesn’t tell of the birth of Jesus. Mark is more concerned with what Jesus does rather than his words and history.
Over the last few weeks we have heard of Jesus’s baptism, his meditation in the desert, John’s imprisonment and Jesus’ commencement of preaching, his calling of disciples, his preaching in Capernaum where his authority was noted (his confidence was noted), and his first exorcism.
Today we take the next step. Jesus and his disciples leave the synagogue and go to Simon’s house. Nothing unusual in that; what else could they do? It was the Sabbath and so it was a day of rest. They only had to walk a short distance of perhaps 50 metres.
On the screen we can see some photos of the remains of the synagogue – what must have been a very impressive building. Remember Capernaum was just what we would call a small village although in this passage Mark calls it a city and elsewhere it is referred to as a town. It was however an important community and the synagogue was an important place for worship when the people couldn’t get to Jerusalem.
Simon’s home was just across the road; houses close together and very small. Some photos show it with Simon Peter’s house now protected with a building built over the top.
My team took the theme of “Healing” as the focus of our service today because we saw the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law and the people as important parts of this passage.
Jesus had just performed an exorcism in the synagogue and the word started to spread – you can imagine because of the result it was almost as fast as today with social media technology. Being affected by a demon was not considered a sickness but something that happened. Today we would regard it as a mental issue and it is now regarded as an illness.
But in Simon’s home it was his mother-in-law who had a fever and stuck in bed. Jesus wasn’t asked to heal her – why would he be; he was a new-style preacher who just happened to do an exorcism. But Jesus was told and went to the woman. In Mark we are told he took her by the hand and helped her up and the fever left her. In Matthew it says that he touched her hand and the fever left her and in Luke he stood at her bedside and ordered the fever to leave her. The Markan Jesus is personal, sensitive and intimate. Remember we are talking about a woman! Men had little to do with them and touching was not something that would normally happen outside of the family.
In this Jesus is making a statement!
Just as he did before he is marking his ministry.
He has shown that not only does he know his scriptures but he is prepared to read and speak about them with the authority of someone who has not been trained but given the authority from God. He is someone who is showing that evil can be destroyed in the name of God through exorcism. And he is someone who says that women and people who are ill have just as much rights as the healthy and the men.
*Comment on Ugandan healing service
Jesus’ work has commenced with the marginalised, and we know that he continued to use that approach throughout his ministry. Do we do that?
I have just finished reading a novel by Jodi Picoult called “Small Great Things” (something light before getting back into theology books). It tells a story of an African American nurse charged with murder of a baby in a hospital because of her supposed negligence. But she had been stopped from nursing this baby because the white supremacist parents didn’t want a black woman touching their child.
The story raises the question of racism not just from an individual perspective – black against white supremacist, white against black – but also from the societal perspective. The marginalised group considered inferior are not included in the general operation of society – dolls that portray white only, dolls that portray slim only, to name just two.
We are just as bad in Australia with our attitude to Aborigines, or Asians, or Middle Eastern or others not like us. We can say we are not racist but we do nothing to fix the overall problem. This has nothing to do with the recent postulating about when Australia Day should be – that is being used as a smoke screen to the overall problem. How does Jesus want us to act? That is something for each of us to figure out, but to remember the marginalised are important.
The next issue to consider in the reading is about the mother-in-law jumping up to serving Jesus and the others. Why should she? She has been sick and has just recovered. Why can’t she have time to get her strength back again? But she is fully recovered, she has been fully healed.
When we talked about this both Jonnie and Claire said she would see it as her role, her job, her honour, and that she would take pleasure in doing it not just for someone special but for someone who was a guest in her house. We don’t know about other women in the house who could have looked after the serving – what about Simon’s wife? Did Andrew have a wife there because it was also his house? Couldn’t Simon or Andrew go into the kitchen and make a sandwich as would happen today hopefully?
Her serving matches to what became Jesus’ ministry – to serve not to be served. Jesus would have been very pleased that this woman (name unknown) saw service as something important. He had established a basis for the community to follow.
The community at this point are anxious to get more help from Jesus. The reading says that they came in the evening with people to be healed – of course they did because it was the first opportunity they could do so because it was the end of the Sabbath.
Following the exorcism in the synagogue they would have been waiting and planning how they could to Jesus quickly with their loved ones. It says that the whole town was there and that Jesus healed many who were sick and drove out many demons. It doesn’t say that Jesus healed everyone and drove out all the demons.
This is an important statement. Jesus is unable to heal all but is prepared to work at changing the community life. It is hard for us to understand how Jesus, how God, does not heal everyone. We believe that all things are possible through Jesus and we pray to him for help with healing. It’s like praying for specific people or groups of people to come to understand and love God – sometimes we see results, other times we don’t.
Jesus is showing his power. Verse 34 raises questions about the demons knowing who Jesus was but Jesus not allowing them to speak. Some commentators believe this was to delay recognition by the community that he was the Messiah – the person promised by Isaiah and others as the one who would come to save them. The demons are spiritual beings who know Jesus’ identity. Jesus wants to achieve more before having to deal with the requirements of being the Messiah – would he organise an army to drive out the Romans? Would he re-establish Israel as a great nation?
Some did realise his identity and Jesus either rebuked them or ignored them; like Peter in Mark 8: 29 when Jesus question him and the disciples, like the woman who anointed him with perfume (Mark 14: 3) and the centurion at the cross (Mark 15: 39). Jesus allowed his identity to remain until the very end; he wanted to create a model of ministry that was service to others, a model that everyone could use.
The demons knew Jesus and knew that he had come to defeat them. They can still shriek but since his death on the cross they no longer have authority. Theologian N.T. Wright says that to believe this to the key to Christian testimony and saving action in the world. God through Jesus has claimed it with loving authority.
The last part of the reading is of Jesus going to other towns in Galilee to preach and to drive out demons. We know that he does other things. We know that he heals other sick people. We know that he raises questions about particular Jewish practices and how they can be changed. We know that he provides training for the disciples to use when he is gone (today you would call that good succession planning and preparation).We know that he raises subjects for the people, for us, to think about – to make us understand our role as Christians. We know that he spread the Good News of God and the kingdom of God.
That last section starts with Jesus slipping away early to pray. It’s telling us that prayer is important. Simon Peter and the others search for him and want him to come back to do more good work. For Simon Peter it is his community so of course he would like to hang around there. But Jesus recognises the importance of going further afield – “it is why I came” he tells them.
His calling at this point in Mark's gospel is to share the news of God's kingdom through healing and announcement. Jesus is the herald with the power to bring in a foretaste of the kingdom, even as he promises that it is continuing to "draw near." As he goes throughout the Galilee he does not rely simply on words to make his point, but on the casting out of demons. He preaches, he heals, he exorcises, and he creates a new world.
For you and me we have our chance to follow his lead. We have the chance to serve, not just to be served. Judy Grimm recently said that she told Rev Cindy Pattishall-Baker that it was time to allow others to serve her rather than being the person who always need to serve. That still fits the model that Jesus created. Jesus still remains the focus.
The first recorded hours of Jesus’ ministry are a whirlwind of activity. We are meant to catch on to the fact that when Jesus enters human lives, things change fast and for the better for those who are open to him. Amen.