Sermon; Epiphany 5B; Mark 1:29-30
The Gospel of Mark begins with this sentence: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And then Mark plows ahead into the story. He rapidly moves from John the Baptist to Jesus' baptism to the wilderness scene to Jesus proclaiming the kingdom of God. This is followed by the calling of the fishermen, the teaching in the synagogue and the exorcism. And that is immediately followed by the events in today's gospel passage. I'm telling you this because sometimes, when we only hear the stories once a week, we lose their context, and I want you to understand that the gospel passages from the last three weeks all come one right another, and I hope that helps frame the story.
Today's gospel passage has three distinct sections: the healing of Simon's mother-in-law, the healing of the sick and demon-possessed people of Capernaum, and Jesus looking for some alone time only to be found by Simon where he announces he's moving on to other cities. As I was going over today's gospel, it occurred to me that this whole passage had to do with service and/or servitude/servanthood.
The first section tends to get people riled up – especially women. Here we have someone related to one of the most important characters in the New Testament and Mark can't be bothered to give us her name. His mother-in-law becomes yet another nameless woman of scripture whose only role, it would seem, is to elevate and serve the men around her. Which, by the way, is exactly what she does.
She is in bed with a fever. We don't know how long she's been there, but I'm willing to bet that Simon, after seeing the events in the synagogue, asked Jesus to come pay a visit. Fevers in that day and age could be deadly. So Jesus comes and takes her by the hand, whereupon she gets up and immediately begins to serve the guys (one translation says that she prepared dinner for them). Jesus doesn't say anything, such as, “Your fever has left you.” He doesn't ask her anything, such as, “Do you believe I can do this?” He just touches her and she's healed. And then, apparently, she makes dinner for everyone.
Men are like, “See! A woman's place is in the home serving us.” Women be like, “Ummm . . . No.”
The second section takes place later in the evening (after dinner?). The people of Capernaum began bringing people to Simon's house so that Jesus could heal them. Remember, this story happens right after the exorcism in the synagogue, so word has gotten out that Jesus is a healer. The people of town brought “all who were sick or demon possessed.” We can debate what “all” means, but there's no doubt that a sizable crowd gathered at the front door of Simon's house. And as they gathered, Jesus offered his services as a healer, curing those brought to him, both physically and spiritually.
Eventually he called it a night and went to bed.
If you know anything about Jesus, you know he's a morning person. The third section takes place early the next morning, before sunup, when Jesus goes to a deserted place to pray. This is something he does often – goes off alone to pray. For you workaholics out there, pay attention to this. You need to find time to rest, recharge, and listen. Eventually Simon wakes up, whether on his own or because people were gathering again at the door, we don't know. But he wakes up and discovers Jesus is gone. So he rounds up some of the other guys and goes looking for him, only to find him wasting time alone. Not really wasting time, but I imagine that's what Simon thought.
“Dude,” he says. “We've been looking all over for you. People are asking where you've gone off to and they have more people who need healing. We need to get back.”
“No,” Jesus replies. “I need to hit the road and proclaim the good news to other towns.” And off he goes.
As I said earlier, all three sections of today's gospel passage revolve around service or servanthood. In the first scene we may be tempted to treat this story as an affirmation that women are to serve men. But that would be an overly simplistic interpretation. It would also be an incorrect interpretation based on the fact that scripture is designed to build up and free, not tear down and oppress.
A better interpretation of this scene is that the mother-in-law served Jesus in RESPONSE to her being healed. She has been given a gift and she responds with a form of discipleship – following the example of Jesus who came “not to be served, but to serve.” Without being told, she understands that it is our unselfish service to others that leads us to more closely follow Jesus.
This unselfish service to others is exhibited by Jesus through his treatment of the crowds. It's evening after an already eventful day. I imagine Jesus just wants to kick back with his disciples and discuss the day's events. But that isn't happening as “the whole city” gathers at the door looking for a miracle.
Rather than send them away, or hiding in the kitchen and telling Simon to say, “Tell them I'm not here,” or doing something that limits who gets healed, Jesus spends time in humble servitude. He meets people where they are. He supplies their needs. He heals them and brings them to wholeness. One of the things the REACH shelter does is to meet people where they are and humbly serve them. Our Community Cafe did the same thing. It is that humble service that reflects the person of Jesus Christ.
The third scene also touches on service and servanthood. Jesus has gone off alone to pray. For those of us who find ourselves serving others often, or who are willing to serve at all hours, this is an important discipline to maintain. Time with God, time alone, and personal boundaries are critically important.
It is here that Simon shows up. He wakes up to yet another crowd searching for Jesus. He grabs his friends and goes looking for him, finally finding him off by himself. “Dude, we've been looking all over for you. There's a crowd of people needing your attention.”
Unlike his mother-in-law, and unlike Jesus himself, Simon serves no one. All he does is track down Jesus and say, “Hey! People are looking for you.” Unlike his mother-in-law who humbly served Jesus after her healing, and unlike Jesus who meets people in need and serves them out of his compassion for them, Simon does nothing. He doesn't even attempt to help them in any possible way. All he does is go looking for Jesus to take care of the problem.
Our mission statement here at Saint John's is to Worship, Welcome, Serve, and Encourage. We must never forget that to serve others, whether serving God, serving the community of this parish, or serving those outside our walls, is a primary part of discipleship. Simon's mother-in-law served Jesus in thanksgiving for the blessing of healing. Jesus served others out of compassion and to help restore right relationships. The only service Simon offered was to go and look for someone else to do the work.
Let us never forget that serving others is not only what we do as part of our mission, it is also what we do as part of being disciples of Jesus. And that's the real lesson of Simon's mother-in-law fixing dinner.