Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Raised Up to Serve!

ON THE Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, we once again hear from the Gospel According to Saint Mark. The lesson, a continuation of our Lord’s early ministry in the town of Capernaum, reveals to us effects that come to us because of the love of God poured out through Christ Jesus. We read…

 And immediately he left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him of her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her; and she served them.
 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And he healed 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.
 And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.  (Mark 1:29-39)

The Ongoing Work…
The scene of this reading, as also found reported in Matthew 8: 14-17 and Luke 4:38-44, tells us of God’s compassion for we who are afflicted. You see, God’s care for the afflicted and our healing occurs even though Jesus stated that it was not the original purpose for his mission. (see Mark 1:14 ).
 After having worshipped with his disciples and others within the synagogue in Capernaum wherein he read the scriptures, where Jesus preached and silenced a demonic spirit, our Lord went to the home of Simon and Andrew. There his ministry to the people of that place continued. Within this text, therefore, we see a living pattern emerged for the church and for our own lives outside of those hallowed walls. You see, the behavior holds true even in present times as our Lord remains with us, working in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit.
 For this reason, let us examine the scripture to see what works our Lord accomplished on that day. After worship, he was informed that Peter’s mother-in-law was “down sick with a fever” (in the Greek text - κατέκειτο πυρέσσουσα). Without hesitation then, Jesus immediately went and touched her. She was lifted up by him, and took her place in the household, to serve him and the others with him. We note that no other members of Peter’s household were mentioned… just his mother-in-law!
 Believing therefore, that there is nothing in the holy Word that should escape our notice… I am brought to consider that she is mentioned clearly here for significant reason. And, though it may be a stretch for us as a modern people, I ask, “Is she an example? Does she represent to Mark’s community, a revelation that Jesus’ ministry has no bounds? Are we not called today to think the same?”
 Further, “Did she represent the whole, prostrate, healed and future church propelled to serve into the future? The mind boggles at the thoughts and answers. I find the answers credible, in that without one hint of rebellion or comment… that she served them! We’ve heard many a tale about cantankerous mothers and mother-in-laws. No mention was made concerning the woman’s previous disposition, other than that she may have been otherwise adhering to Sabbath rules by laying down and resting. But to be described as one who rose without a word of complaint? Is this not to be the role of the church throughout the ages, until the day when we realize the fullness of the kingdom?
Note also at the downing of the sun, Jesus’ ministry continued. You see, Peter’s home had already experienced the will of the Lord of the Sabbath when Jesus did the work of healing, and then the work of the woman served. We may also assume that even while the day wore on…. there was acceptable household service. However, out in other homes within the Hebrew community… work was not to be done until the Sabbath was over. From the Torah, we read…

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it. 
                                                                                        (Exodus 20:8-11)

 Sabbath restrictions were thus widely observed by devout Jews in the Capernaum community, and beyond. These were not seen as applicable to Jesus by Mark, however, because our Lord was indeed Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus is the Son of God, and is God. Jesus could only be such, as he freely healed Peter’s mother-in-law.
 However, the community of Capernaum kept Sabbath. They waited until the day was over to bring others for healing. I wondered, “Why did they come then?” Were they spurred to come in answer to the occasion of the demon being driven out from the unruly man in the synagogue? Indeed, was that event sufficient to bring the whole town’s response? Or was it the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law broadcast over a backyard stone fence on that afternoon so long ago? In any case, when that evening arrived, Jesus responded to needs and healed those who were brought in faith. He ministered to them by driving out sinful and adverse spirits.
 The casting out, depending on the person afflicted, may have had varying response. You see, the Hebrew mindset about illness was such that no separation existed between body, mind, or spirit. To them, wholistic healing was thus provided by Jesus. We note however, that the issue for Mark is not in remarking about the results of healing, but in revealing the reaction of the demons (Greek text – δαίμων). The healings were authentic and it disturbed many. Other powers, demons… were disturbed. Maybe the demons of jealousy took hold of leaders within the synagogue? Were those evil entities stiffening those who thought they had a hold on the local, rural world? Did the local medics and medicinal suppliers fear for the loss of their business? Whoever the demons were, and whoever they assaulted, were certainly threatened. By virtue of his authority, they knew Jesus identity! In keeping with the writer’s theme of the “Messianic secret”, therefore, the demons (those who distribute evil mindset) were commanded not to cry out, even though they knew the identity and power of Jesus.

What Now?
 The next morning when light had appeared, Jesus arose and went out by himself into the surrounding country to pray. Again, please understand that I consider this scene to be very instructional to the church, which is the community of Christ both then and now. Being sinfully human and rather parochial in thought, the disciples looked for, and caught up with Jesus. They wanted him to return to Capernaum. Was it that they saw him demonstrate the ability to heal, and therefore they collectively wanted him to become a local physician. The men thus expressed a worthy desire for themselves and those around them. Surely we may think, amongst their number were persons who yet needed such care… and would need more care in the future. Here then we are reminded by our writer that Jesus did not come into the world specific to that healing purpose.
 Remember this! Jesus had earlier stated his ministry objective clearly. Jesus, the only begotten Son of God had come for that reason which the author had previously revealed. Jesus had come to proclaim the good news, the gospel of God. Indeed, through Jesus Christ, God our Father was working to reconcile the world to himself.
 Thus as we today read and hear this text, that first teaching echoes though our church community again. We are to understand through the teaching of the Holy Spirit, that the perfect, once and for all time was indeed realized by our Lord’s ministry coming into the world. Through him the kingdom of God was and still is at hand.  Given this good news, what are we to do? I say to you that his church is to come before our Creator and repent… turn around and read once again Mark 1:14. We are to face the altar of our loving God in church and believe this good news. Let us do so in the name of the one who taught us, healed us and died for us... Jesus Christ alone. Let it be known by all and let it be lived by us.

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