Crows Nest Uniting Church
Epiphany 5 • 8 Feb 2015


Isaiah 40:21-31
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39


Rev. Chris Udy


We’re at the beginning of Mark’s gospel.
John the Baptist has appeared
to prepare the way;
Jesus has been baptised,
and heard that voice from heaven say
“You are my child, my beloved,
and I am pleased with you.”
And immediately - Mark’s favourite word -
immediately, he’s driven out into the wilderness,
to work out what on earth
that message from heaven could mean.
Then, when he’d heard
that John the Baptist had been arrested
Jesus returns to Galilee,
to begin his public mission and proclamation.
“The time has come,” he said in his preaching.
“The kingdom of God has come near.
Repent and believe the good news!”
 
As he started to preach,
disciples came to join him:
Simon and Andrew, James and John,
and together they arrived at Capernaum,
the first place - in Mark’s Gospel -
where people enthusiastically heard his message
and the Jesus movement
started to gain momentum.
 
Here at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel
Mark describes what many people call
a “typical day”
for Jesus and his disciples.
It was a Sabbath day - a Saturday -
so the typical day for Jesus
began with teaching in the Synagogue,
where, as we read last week,
people were astonished at his teaching.
Where other teachers quoted other teachers,
and told stories
they’d heard told by other teachers
Jesus spoke, the people said, with “authority”.
He spoke like an author -
with the confidence and power
that came from speaking
his own words in his own way.
 
But, again, as we read last week,
not everyone was happy with what he said,
and one man challenged
both his authority and his power.
“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are — the Holy One of God!”
 
This first scene in the ‘typical day’
is of public proclamation and reactive challenge.
Jesus announced the nearness of God’s kingdom,
and those who wanted things
to stay the way they were
did everything they could to undermine him.
Mark described the man who challenged Jesus
as “possessed by an impure spirit”.
Often that’s interpreted
as some kind of mental illness –
but that’s probably not what Mark intended here.
A better translation might be
to say the man was corrupt:
his spirit was so invested in dishonest deals
and treacherous relationships
that the idea of God’s justice
and the kind of public exposure that might bring
was terrifying.
There’s even a hint of that fear
in the way he challenged Jesus -
“I know who you are” he said -
as if he thought that everyone
must be as afraid of the truth as he was.
 
But Jesus wasn’t afraid of being exposed,
and he wasn’t intimidated by truth -
so challenges to his authority
were very quickly silenced,
and news about Jesus and his teaching
quickly spread throughout the region of Galilee.
 
So that’s the first scene in the typical day.
 
Jesus and his disciples
then left the Synagogue -
moving from the public sphere into the private.
They went to Andrew and Simon’s home
and there they discovered
that Simon’s mother-in-law
was ill and in bed with a fever.
Jesus went into her room -
a very unusual thing
for a middle-eastern man to do
with a woman to whom he wasn’t closely related.
He took her hand,
and helped her up,
and the fever left her,
and Simon’s mother-in-law began to serve them.
 
Each of these scenes in the ‘typical day’
are deeply symbolic stories.
They probably have their origins in memory;
Jesus could easily have healed Peter’s mother-in-law -
but that’s not why Mark tells this story.
This is about the way Jesus works;
this is about his mission and his purpose -
and women were vitally important
in the work and mission of Jesus - and his purpose.
The message Jesus proclaimed in the public sphere -
the challenge to corruption that would come
through the justice and peace
of the coming kingdom of God -
also had its echo in the private sphere.
In private, those who were most at risk -
those who had been neglected and were in danger -
were women – and not much has changed.
Jesus went into the bedroom
of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law -
so all the family politics are in play -
and he raised her -
and her fever left her, and she served them.
Whenever we read this passage
I feel a bit sorry for Peter’s mother-in-law -
no sooner off her deathbed
than she’s back in the kitchen -
but again, that’s not the point of the story.
Jesus would not only challenge
the public powers of corruption and deception -
he would also challenge our private relationships,
and restore those
who had been excluded and discarded
to a place of significance and value.
It’s clear that women
really did serve him -
that is,
they not only responded to his teaching,
they also gave him the encouragement
and support he needed to keep going.
The gospels are very clear;
it was women who understood Jesus best,
and when he was later raised to life and health
it was women who would first proclaim
his presence in resurrection.
 
Public synagogue, private home,
now comes the third scene in the ‘typical day’,
and, again, it’s back out in public.
 
It was sunset,
so the Sabbath was now over,
and the people of the town
could carry those who were unwell
to the doorway of the house where Jesus was staying.
Jesus had in fact broken Sabbath law already,
by healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law -
and he would break Sabbath law again in later days
if it was needed -
but the people of Capernaum
waited for the sun to set
before they carried their sick to him for healing.
“Jesus healed many who had various diseases.” -
many, we note Mark says - but not all.
“He also drove out many demons,” Mark continues,
“but he would not let the demons speak
because they knew who he was.”
 
The proclamation of God’s kingdom
moves from the public sphere into the private -
and then the healing, liberating work of Jesus
moves from the private world into the public.
All these people - all the women and the men
who were ill or disturbed or discarded -
for one reason or another -
all these sad and sick and disabled people
would normally have been kept at home,
hidden away in some dark corner or back room,
often a family secret or a source of shame.
The purity codes
that governed almost every aspect of life -
that said women were a source of contagion
and that no-one could carry anything on the Sabbath -
even for their healing -
these purity codes meant people
who were sick or sad or disabled
were probably also sinful;
they were supposedly being punished by God.
But when Jesus proclaimed God’s kingdom,
and sought out those who were unwell,
and offered them both healing and inclusion -
all those private struggles
and all that domestic shame
was revealed for what it was -
a part of life – a part of every family’s life.
 
Sometime in every family’s life
there will be seasons of extra challenge:
days of ordinary weariness,
as well as illness and disability,
the burden of which they carry
on behalf of the whole community -
and the mark of true community,
the best measure of healthy society,
is when families then receive,
from the wider community,
understanding, respect, encouragement,
assistance and resources
as they carry that load
and care for those they love.
 
Public synagogue, private home,
public community -
and finally, private - or at least, personal -
disciplines of reflection
and refreshment and refocus in prayer.
 
The ‘typical day’ is now almost over,
and everyone has gone home -
but Jesus rises while the world is still dark,
and finds himself a solitary place
before the sun rises into the next day.
This is the pattern Jesus followed
right up to the night before he was killed.
Public engagement - life in community -
active relationships -
teaching, healing, meals and conversation -
would lead into times of quiet;
reflection, re-assessment,
finding his perspective again,
refreshing his sense of identity and purpose.
Jesus wasn’t driven or directed
by the way either crowds or his closest friends
responded to him.
He wasn’t addicted to anyone’s approval -
he didn’t need to be needed -
but he did need time in solitude
to be restored to the vision that he lived by.
We only get glimpses
of how and what he prayed -
but if they’re any indication
it looks like Jesus used his times of solitude
to re-connect himself
with the message he heard in his baptism:
‘You are my child, my beloved’
and to wrestle through what that meant
for the day about to come.
The pattern for prayer
that he gave to his disciples -
what we call the Lord’s prayer -
does exactly that -
but we also know
that sometimes the way Jesus prayed
was anguished and disheartened,
and he struggled to be peaceful
with what the next day would bring.
 
It was his personal, private reflection
that gave him what he needed
for his next ‘typical day’,
where what he said
and who he was in public
would be tempered and directed
by his inner sources
of meaning and healing and peace.
 
As the next day broke
his disciples ‘hunted for him’ Mark says.
They wanted him to go back to Capernaum
and stage a repeat of his success the day before -
but that wasn’t what he was there for.
“Let us go on to the neighbouring towns,
so that I may proclaim the message there also;
that is what I came out to do,” he said
and they moved on to another town
on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem.
 
Over the last few weeks
we’ve been thinking about God’s call,
following these early scenes in Mark’s gospel.
We who are disciples of Jesus -
people who pattern our lives on the life of Jesus -
we also need to think about
the rhythms and patterns and movements of our days.
Jesus maintained this balance
between the public and the private -
moving from one to the other,
keeping personal boundaries clear
as he moved between them.
The nearness of God’s kingdom -
that vision of God’s justice and God’s peace -
has to be realised
both in the public sphere of politics and community,
and in the private world of home and family:
“your kingdom come, your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven”.
That means preaching and proclamation isn’t enough -
there also has to be action -
personal engagement,
touching and working for healing.
And everything has to be held together,
sifted through, searched for understanding,
tested against the hopes and values
of a person whose identity
is grounded in and guided by
the love and grace of God.
 
We who are disciples of Jesus
need to find our patterns and rhythms:
for public, community worship;
for honest and intimate personal relationships;
for action that leads to healthy society,
and for disciplines of reflection,
stillness, mindfulness and forgiveness -
prayer that keeps us connected
to the deepest sources
of love and healing power.