PRAYER: Come Holy Spirit meet us where we are. Dwell among us this morning as we seek to expand our understanding of just how much you love us and all others. Accompany us on our faith journeys that we may always be growing and learning your ways. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer.
This story in the beginning of Mark’s gospel is action packed. It’s a busy day in the early ministry of Jesus. As we take a quick look at Jesus’ busy day, I want us to take notice of the reactions. It started with Jesus in the synagogue, and he casts out an evil spirit right there during the Sabbath, which according to those who were perhaps overly legalistic, this was a big no-no! He taught with such authority that he really amazed a lot of the people there. “They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” As we’ll see in a moment, there must have been a pretty active rumor mill happening. It was still the Sabbath however, so no one was able to actually do anything about it at this point, but his reputation was becoming well-known in a hurry.
And then he went to Simon Peter’s house where Peter’s mother-in-law was sick. Jesus healed her. He took her by the hand and lifted her up. She responded by getting up and serving everyone. It was still the Sabbath at this point, but as he was in the privacy of Peter’s home, there was no big controversy here. There were no tongues wagging over the fact that he healed this particular person on the Sabbath.
No sooner does that happen, then what seems like the whole town started showing up at the door. The sun has set at this point, so the Sabbath is over. The faithful legalistic crowd would not have come otherwise. From the reading, it sounds like a madhouse. People were probably lining up around the block to get something out of Jesus… or just to see him. The neighbors were probably annoyed that people were standing on their lawns, they might even have called the cops. But through it all, Jesus was healing people or casting out demons… He was probably working ‘til all hours; I’m sure he was exhausted.
But as exhausted as he may have been, early the next morning, he got up and went out to find some seclusion so that he could pray. You see Jesus do this often in the gospels. He goes off to pray; he seeks seclusion so that he can connect with God. This is his fuel. This is what grounds him and directs him.
If I’m being totally honest, I’m not good at this. I often jump from one task to the next to the next without stopping to give thanks to the One who gives me purpose. I might often wake up and get right to work on whatever task is ahead of me, and in doing so, I lose sight of that connection that’s so important to us all. It’s something I’m guessing we could all strive to do better.
As Jesus is off praying, Simon and the others come looking for him. Our passage uses the word “hunt” – they went hunting for him and when they found him, they said that everyone was looking for him. They wanted him to come back and pick up where he left off the night before.
So what were the reactions that we see in this story? We see a lot of shock and surprise at the authority with which he taught. We see a great deal of curiosity and we can presume a lot of rumor mongering going on. And we see the insistence from Simon that Jesus come back… everyone’s searching for you. I don’t know about you, but to me, the words that come to mind are “frenetic” or “chaotic”.
But there’s one other reaction – that of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. How did she respond? She immediately got up and began to serve. Simon’s mother-in-law was the only one who responded to receiving this healing, this blessing from Jesus by actually following Jesus’ example. Three times, later on in the gospel of Mark – in chapters 8, 9, and 10, Jesus will tell his disciples exactly what’s going to happen – that he will be forced to endure much suffering, to the point of death. And all three times, they don’t understand. All throughout the gospels, Jesus demonstrates servant leadership and shows his disciples that great paradox of having to humble oneself in order to be lifted up. They don’t get it. Simon’s mother-in-law understood. She was, perhaps, the very first one who did. She provided an example of the spirit of Jesus’ teaching that, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”
Simon’s mother-in-law is a model for diaconal (deacon) ministry within the United Methodist Church. It is a difficult truth that most people seem to want the benefits of following a miracle worker without accepting the claims of discipleship.
Simon tries to pull Jesus back to his home, so that Jesus can seemingly set up shop right there and offer miracle healings from there, like some carnival sideshow. They undoubtedly think they’ve found their niche, and they want to have everyone come to them if they want to experience the healing power. But Jesus says, “No… we’re not going back there, we’re going elsewhere…”
He knew that if he stayed there in one place, if he went back to Simon’s house and picked up where he left off the night before, people would only see him through the lens of “miracle worker”. He would only be identified as “healer”. Jesus is – quite obviously – so much more than that. But it goes even deeper than that. Jesus is demonstrating beyond any shadow of a doubt that it is God who comes to us. Jesus is demonstrating the very nature of God’s grace that even before we know we need it, it comes to us. God doesn’t sit and wait for us; God goes out of God’s way to come to us, to accompany us throughout our lives.
There is a belief that dates back to ancient times – some say it is even found in the creation story itself – that says that there is a power found in knowing someone’s name, their true identity… that if you know the name – the true name – of someone, then you have power over them. Think of it this way: in the Genesis story, God gives mankind dominion over all of the animals and allows mankind to do what? To name them. The act of naming carries with it a sense of power, of supremacy.
This is relevant because there are many times in the Gospel of Mark that we see Jesus telling evil spirits to be quiet about him. By pushing back on those spirits AND by pushing back on Simon who seemingly wanted to pigeonhole Jesus into this one role, Jesus maintains dominion over his own identity. Nobody likes to be pigeonholed!
There was this guy I used to know many years ago, that I would see from time to time. He was in a position of authority, and he had a particular way of getting under my skin because it seemed as though he was only able to see me in one context – that of my favorite baseball team. Whenever he would see me, that was literally the only thing he would talk to me about. It was as if my entire life was defined by what baseball team I follow, and I realized years later that his treatment toward me was actually quite belittling. It made me feel like he couldn’t be bothered to get to know me on any other level.
You see, there is a cutting edge to Jesus’ push back. He wasn’t about to be defined in this one-dimensional way. He is sending the very clear message that his power to heal is not, in and of itself, the point of his mission. He came to proclaim the kingdom of God. He came to declare good news to the poor and release to the captives. He came to offer and demonstrate relationship with God that draws us closer together.
In our faith journey, it isn’t enough for us to merely identify ourselves with the label of Christian and not also carry the yoke of discipleship. Simon’s mother-in-law may have been the first to see this, but she wasn’t the last. Jesus sat with her and took her hand, he coaxed her back from her fever. He built relationship with her.
There are those who would tell you that Christian faith is simply about believing the right doctrine and then going to heaven when we die. That type of faith is about one-dimensional. It’s very comfortable, but as Martin Luther King Jr said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Jesus offers us healing and hope. Jesus goes out of his way to offer us love, and he reconciles us to God and to one another. How do we respond to this free gift of grace? Do we choose to hang our hat on the singular dimension of doctrinal beliefs or do we choose to build upon the platform that Jesus demonstrated for us while he was with us?
Paul writes in the third chapter of Ephesians: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
When we break free of any one-dimensional definition of faith that we have built for ourselves – or any definition in which we have been pigeonholed for that matter, we find the true freedom that comes with a relationship with Jesus Christ. We stop being the curious onlookers that came just to see this healer at Simon’s house that taught with great authority. We become more… oh so much more. I want to invite us to seek a multi-dimensional faith that makes our hearts break at the same things that breaks God’s heart and that fills our hearts with those same things that fill God’s heart.
I want to invite us all into a multi-dimensional faith that endeavors to seek love in all cases, that seeks to build relationships that are deeper and built on a foundation of God’s desire for community. I want to invite us to respond to the free gift of grace as disciples, breaking free of whatever limitations we’ve set for ourselves.
To God be the glory.