Mark 8:31–38 (NRSV)
Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
(Mt 16:21–28; Lk 9:21–27)
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
This past week has been one that has held a great deal of conflicting feelings for me. Last Sunday before our Meeting for Worship began I heard that a man I respect passed away. This man was someone common around Kansas City Hockey circles, and he had a charity hockey game called “A Skate with Bob”. For several years this game was organized along with auctions to raise support and awareness for pancreatic cancer. I liked Bob for one very important reason, he loved what he did. He loved to play hockey and he put his heart and soul into he charity work because his wife was one that died of this form of cancer. He loved what he did and his love caused those around him to become interested as well. Bob, or as Albert called him “My purple goalie,” was a great encourager. Nearly every game he would talk with Albert because they had a common interest.
But the loss of the purple goalie was not the only thing that caused me to pause. As we all know we lost the great evangelist this week as well. I am sure that most of us if not all of us have been encouraged in our faith in some way by Billy Graham. From his evangelistic crusades, his radio programs, or his various publications, probably the most important is the magazine Christianity Today, this one man has done a great work for the kingdom.
Both these men poured their lives into the things that they loved. And their love for what they did was infectious. They held nothing back when it came to the challenge set before them, and they gave it their all. It makes me stop and wonder. Do I live my life in such a way? Do I live my life with such loving passion that I draw people in to participate in the cause?
As I dealt with these emotions, as I endured the news, and contemplated the scriptures for this week, I found myself caught in a snare. The perspective of my state of mind and emotions caused things in this passage to come out that I had failed to recognize before, and quite frankly it drove me to prayer.
Leading up to this passage Jesus was in Caesarea of Philippi, and he had asked his disciples a couple of very important questions. “Who do people say that I am?” and “But who do you say that I am?” I say these are important questions because these questions are the very questions each of us have to answer every day of our lives. And the answer we give, reflect our faith and shape our actions. Who is Jesus?
Peter, the rock, boldly answers Jesus’s second question saying you are the Messiah. Implying that Jesus is the anointed, chosen, appointed, and even predestined king of kings and lord of lords. He was the one that would bring restoration to Israel and hope to the nations. But how was he going to do this, what would this coming kingdom look like? Everyone had ideas and theories as to what this would mean, some were even based fully on scripture, but none were complete. Every concept that the religious leaders had of who and what the messiah was were interpreted through some cultural, political, and religious ideology and each of those were lacking in some way.
As they were walking Jesus started this discussion, and I am sure the disciples were getting into this discussion deeply, because If we were to look at their backgrounds we would see that they were diverse. We had common laborers, we had business owners, government officials, there were religious zealots and potentially religious apostates. Each having some opinion based on the teaching experiences that they had throughout their lives. Could you imagine how intense some of those conversations could have been?
Jesus eventually is able to get a word in and he begins to teach them. He says, “the son of man is going to endure great suffering. He will be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Mark makes a point to say that he said this quite openly, meaning he did not mince his words and the meaning behind the words was very clear. Very soon Jesus, and his followers were going to face something very intense. They are going to experience something that will challenge and shake their faith to their very core, yet will also provide great hope.
Notice who will reject Jesus. The elders, the chief priests, and the scribes the complete spectrum of the religious leadership were going to reject Jesus. I want us to just let this sink in for a moment. The entire religious establishment from the community rabbis, the ones standing in the offices between God and humanity, and the interpreters of the law were going to deem Jesus unfit, and unworthy. They will look at their interpretations of faith and look at the teachings and actions of Jesus and will proclaim that this man is not only wrong but completely opposed to their religious teachings.
Imagine what you might think about this teaching if you were walking along that path with Jesus that day. You had left everything to follow this teacher. You had left great careers, family even homes and have just spent years living a nomadic life, mimicking the teachings of this man. You had watched him do things that you cannot explain, blind eyes are opened even eyes that were closed from the very day of birth. People that had lain on mats for years, unable to walk at a word were standing up, walking and even dancing on limbs that were withered to nothing yet restored to health. You had seen men rejected by all of society because of a skin disease restored to health and welcomed back into the community. And this teacher is telling you quite frankly that all of this has gone on and the religious leaders will all come to say that it is all void because they were performed in a manner contrary to their accepted traditions.
Peter once again enters the scene. Peter takes Jesus aside and has an intense conversation. Mark says that Peter rebukes Jesus for saying these things. I want us sit with this for a moment. Peter rebukes Jesus. For many years I have read this and just passed this off as Peter disagreeing and letting Jesus know his feelings. But that is not what the word rebukes implies. This word is the same word used in regard to the silencing of demons. Peter rebukes Jesus. He gets in Jesus face and commands him to be silent. He tells the very messiah that this is absolutely not what will happen because it goes against everything that everyone knows, and Jesus is mistaken. Peter rebukes Jesus, and becomes the first to reject Jesus’s teaching in the very manner Jesus claimed would happen. Peter then endures the most heart-breaking statement ever uttered by Jesus. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
I want us to take a moment to imagine this scene. Imagine yourself as Peter. I want us to really do this because we are all passionate people. We are people striving to be righteous we truly are. We are people who pray with power. We are people that are zealous for what we believe to be right. We will stand firm until the end if we believe it to be true. And you know I love that. That is one of the things that attracted me to this Meeting when I was a young confused single dad not knowing if I would even be accepted in a church, not even knowing if I wanted to be accepted. As a man who was wrestling with God about my calling and if I really wanted to become a minister or not. This Meeting accepted me. This meeting encouraged me to embrace that work that Christ was doing in me. And this meeting called me back. We are a righteous people. But in our zeal can our focus get skewed?
In our righteous zeal can we grab hold of ideologies that we deem right yet may originate from places other than the Spirit of God? May we hold to these ideas so tightly that we would stand in the face of our savior and tell him that he is wrong?
This scares me. It terrifies me. Because I know that I can easily fall into that snare. I have read historic accounts of generations past and the atrocities that they have committed and I think how could they do that and call themselves Christian? And they did, they were people like us wanting to be righteous. They were people seeking to make their communities and their nations righteous and in the name of God they boldly acted, only to have history show that their actions resembled Satan more than Jesus whom they claimed to follow. Today we call them Godless. But do we examine ourselves?
I read the first two verses of today’s passage and I could barely move forward. I examined my life and my actions and found myself questioning everything. Have I been an instrument of Satan more than a servant and friend of Jesus? If Jesus called arguably his best friend Satan what would he say about me?
Thankfully Jesus tells us how to answer this question. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Let them deny themselves. Jesus is telling us in this statement that our focus must not be on our own self-interest. Our entire life should be focused on one thing, the encouragement of others to the kingdom of God. Jesus goes on to say:
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Deny themselves…how often do we oppose this concept. Even within the church we all too often think of ourselves. Even with the best intentions at times we as a community can be selfish. We want our church to survive so we focus on ourselves inside the walls we have built instead of focusing the encouragement of others. I say this knowing full well that there are times we must look at ourselves and our personal and corporate health. But are we doing this with the intention of going out to serve others. At times even, Jesus took care of himself, we read often that he withdrew to isolated places to pray alone. There is a place for self-care, but the goal of that time alone is so that we can then go out to the community to worship and minister to the needs of others.
Deny themselves and take up the cross…Jesus is telling us that to truly follow him is to be totally and completely opposed to this world. The cross was an instrument of torturous execution. It was used to provide the greatest form of suffering publicly and it was used to force the submission of non-romans to their rule. It was illegal for this form of punishment to be used on anyone who was a citizen. Jesus is telling us that we need to take up the cross and follow. Reject our rights, deny ourselves the benefits of citizenship to this world and to take on the shame of the oppressed. Everything in this simple statement tells us exactly what God is calling us to do as a society of Friends.
We are to find injustice in our world and we are to claim it as our own and minister to it selflessly. I saw this in the two people who passed to the next life this week. One saw and experienced the pains of cancer and he took that on himself and used everything available to him to do what he could ease the suffering. The other would travel the world sharing the Gospel, and inspiring people where ever he went to turn from the lives they once lived and to return to God through Jesus Christ. Deny themselves and take up the cross and follow. Encourage and inspire each and everyone we meet to embrace the life and lifestyle of Christ and deny themselves and to in turn take up the cross and follow him.
As we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, let us examine our lives and let us reflect on this interchange between Jesus and Peter. Are we reflecting Christ in our lives or are we reflecting the adversary? And are we willing to endure the cross for the benefit of others?
Mark 1:1-15 (NRSV)
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
God with us. This one statement is probably one of the most difficult concepts to imagine. Most of us are perfectly fine with the concept of a supreme being far off in the heavens. Most if not all of us can perfectly accept the stance of a creator who hung the stars with his fingers and set the heavenly bodies in motion. We are ok with the statement of Christ the king, this one might get us a bit because our culture does not like the idea of a king. We like to have our own say and the ability to vote. The concept of a no g means that there is a personality out there whose word is law. A personality who may not even care what our opinion is, which does not sound very democratic. But the idea that this divine being would live with and among us is almost unimaginable.
There are a couple of important aspects to the divine king coming to live among mankind. The first is that the subjects would have an opportunity to gain understanding directly from the source, instead of the information filtering through various agents. Within each level the official makes some interpretation to what the intent of the law is. And to traverse between the levels takes time. For some things this process can be beneficial; for example, if there were not bureaucratic levels to traverse for oil pipelines or other potential environmental threats companies could potentially cause unnecessary damage that could have been prevented. At other times it can hinder the course of justice; the greatest examples of this are people who have been wrongfully incarcerated for crimes they did not commit, who serve time in prison while the court appeal processes are navigated. To give humanity direct access to the divine king would mean that the divine monarch would be able to teach us themselves, they would be able to show us by what intention their decrees were given. And our cries for justice or mercy would be directly heard, instead of having to wait for our requests to be delivered by the various levels of the royal court.
The second aspect of the incarnation of a divine king is that the king has intimate knowledge of the lives and lifestyles of their subjects. Nearly every day I see some statement being made about the disconnection that the ruling class has with the common people. Nearly every day I see statements being made from people on subjects that they have little or no expertise in expressing some sort of change that might make sense in theory yet in practice rarely works according to plan. For example, several times through the holiday seasons I had managers make lists of tasks to accomplish during the day. The first task would always be to stock the shelves with the products received that day. The problem would come when the estimated or allotted time necessary to accomplish these tasks according to the company standards exceeded the scheduled labor force available that day. It was actually not uncommon to have the necessary time to double the number of laborers, leaving the first task on the list unfinished and management wondering why the second and third task were left unaccomplished. This disconnected feeling often leads to diminished moral, unless the manager is seen sharing the load.
I know those are simplistic examples but hopefully it allows us to begin to see the amazing reality of the incarnation. Jesus being fully God and fully human connects the divine king to common humanity. Jesus through his incarnation steps out of the royal palace and moves into our neighborhood. He eats the meals of a common family. He labored on tasks like everyone else. Jesus was divine yet human.
Today we meet Jesus once again on the banks of the Jordan with his cousin John, who we know as the Baptist. When we first read this passage our mind almost instantly focuses on the dove that has descended from the opened heavens to rest on Jesus. We can almost hear the voice speaking with our ears. This image is powerful. Right away we see Jesus as the divine king. But the image is almost too powerful, it almost causes us to only see the divine aspect to Jesus’s personality. If we are not careful we can disconnect with the teachings of Jesus because we see the monarch the ruler and judge not the man. We might begin to think that the decrees of Jesus are all good on paper, and they make good discussion points but cannot possibly be put into practice. And suddenly we lose God with us and again see God over there in the high heaven as detached from human reality as a royal family is detached from the reality of life in the slums of a city. Jesus becomes God with them instead of God with us.
It is no wonder why in the history of the church humanity has sought other advocates for our plights. Christ is king, but I am funeral director how can the king know what I am going through. So, we find someone that was close to God and similar to us so we ask Saint Joseph of Arimathea to talk to Jesus for us. Or maybe you are a teacher so we ask Saint Thomas Aquinas to speak on our behalf. Maybe I have fallen into sin, and was caught stealing and feel I cannot approach a righteous king so I instead call on Saint Nicholas of Myra the patron saint of repentant thieves. Christ is king, He is over there and I am here. He is far away and I am struggling. But we know that Christ is our advocate we know that those saints of old are merely human as we are, but why then do we often sit in our struggles, why do we watch our friends struggle trying to become good enough on their own?
Do we really believe that God is with us? This is where the temptation of Jesus becomes so powerful. Jesus was fully divine yet He faced temptation. Jesus was the cocreator of the entire universe yet while he walked among humankind he had struggles. Three of the four gospels mention the trials that Jesus faced. Some of those accounts are very detailed while Mark describes it in one paragraph, in two verses. Over the years I have found a great deal of comfort as I have contemplated the temptations of Jesus. Nearly every time I come across it in my reading, I find myself sitting with it for a while. I know that sounds weird, even a bit unrighteous but I like knowing that Jesus struggled. To be honest I tend to bypass these two verses in Mark, I usually get to this point and I either move along to the next verses rapidly, or I turn to one of the other gospels and sit with them before moving forward. This week I stayed with Mark. I stayed because Mark mentioned Jesus’s struggle and he did so in his own unique way. “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”
The other two gospels that mention Jesus’s temptations go into detail of what Satan tempted Jesus with, yet Mark only says that he was tempted by Satan. Mark is also the only account that speaks of wild beasts. That is what caught my attention this week. Why would Mark explain this time as he was with the wild beasts? While I looked up this word I found that most often referred to undomesticated animals, but as I continued to read about it this same word I found it to be more interesting. Although it could be used to refer to undomesticated animals it mainly described a predator. So, in the wilds of ancient Israel these wild beasts would prowl around to attach the sheep. But that was not the only interesting thing I found. The term translated “wild beasts” was also used to describe the enemies of Israel. More specifically the Philistines. But like an infomercial there is even more: Wicked people, monster, and demon. I even found that this is the same word used in The Revelation to describe the anti-Christ. Jesus was out there in the wilderness for forty days facing monsters, enemies of God’s people, predatory animals, and everything that opposed the nature of God. Basically, Jesus was out there in that wilderness facing everything that we face every day of our life.
Immediately after the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended on him like a dove and a voice proclaimed, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” That same spirit not only encouraged Jesus to face our demons, that Spirit compelled or drove Jesus out there. This is the very same word for an exorcism as well as Jesus later sending out the disciples. Jesus was compelled to go out to face our demon, to fight our monsters. He went out like David to fight that Philistine giant Goliath. Jesus went out to face head on everything that opposed the ways of God, for us and with us.
I want us to let that sink in for a moment. What is our largest struggle? What is the greatest monster hiding under our bed? What has us so frightened that we are unable to move? That very thing Jesus looked at in the wilderness, he looked it directly in the eye and calmly yet firmly told it to back off. And like the demon in the synagogue, like legion in the man from the region of Decapolis, and every other monster Jesus faced, faces, and will face they back off.
He was with the wild beast and the angel waited on him. Even in the wild wilderness surrounded by the monsters of life Jesus was not alone, and neither are we. We occasionally sing a song by Chris Tomlin called Whom Shall I Fear. In that song we sing:
You hear me when I call, you are my morning song, though darkness fills the night it cannot hide the light: Whom shall I fear?
You crush the enemy, underneath my feet, you are my sword and shield though troubles linger still: Whom shall I fear?
I know who goes before me, I know who stand behind, the God of angel armies is always by my side. The one who reigns forever He is a friend of mine; the God of angel armies is always by my side.
It goes on to say:
Nothing formed against me shall stand, you hold the whole world in your hands, I’m holding on to your promises: you are faithful, you are faithful, you are faithful.
I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind, the God of angel armies is always by my side. The one who reigns forever He is a friend of mine; the God of angel armies is always by my side.
Jesus was compelled to go into that wilderness, he was driven to that place filled with wild beast and he went there to face our demons for us and with us. He goes there before us, he stays by our side as the battle wages one, and he covers our back as we walk through that dark valley to the place of victory. So why do we fear?
We fear because we do not believe that Christ is greater than our struggle. We fear because we are too afraid to let Christ fight for us. We fear because if we let go of our struggle we might be seen as weak or unrighteous, unable to conquer our demons. But why do we continue to hold onto and hold up the vanquished foe? Jesus fought the battle for us in that wilderness and he pushed them back, they began their retreat until the ultimate victory was won when Jesus died on that cross, was buried and rose again from the grave. Goliath fell and so will the monsters that we face. If we face them with the incarnate God with us.
Jesus left that wilderness, coming back into the community and proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Do we believe, or do we look at our world in fear? Do we believe, or do we cower in the corner in the shadow of lifeless and powerless enemies? Do we believe that time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near?
As we enter into this time of open worship I encourage us to consider not only the beasts we face but also the season of the year we are in. The season of lent which began on Wednesday is the time of year where we walk with Christ through his struggles, or in actuality where he walks with us through our struggles. We consider the sacrifices he made for us, the main one being the sacrifice he made when he was compelled out of his great love to take on our struggles for us and with us. And during this time many find it encouraging to make sacrifices as well, not out of duty but as a sign of solidarity with Christ and with each other. We each struggle, at times we can see the struggle and at other times that battle we fight is hidden. Do we believe? If so let us repent and believe that Christ has conquered our foe for us and nothing formed against us will stand to keep us from the promise of God, which are forgiveness, mercy, everlasting love, reconciliation, and life without end.
Mark 1:29–39 (NRSV)
Jesus Heals Many at Simon’s House
(Mt. 8:14–17; Lk 4:38–41)
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 sundown, 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.
A Preaching Tour in Galilee
(Mt 4:23–25; Lk 4:42–44)
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 neighboring 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 does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? Over the centuries the church has tried to determine this to the best of their abilities, yet within each generation the question is again asked. And along with each generation that asks the question, those in the previous generation begin to question the faith of the younger generations. It is a vicious cycle but one I hope we can get past.
This is why the gospels are so important. The gospels are the testimony of those first disciples, it is their recollection of what life following Jesus looked like. Each gospel account is just a little different, which shows us the unique perspective of each of the writers. It shows us what that particular writer deemed important, and what convinced them to continue their devotion to follow Jesus. And that is exactly the definition of what a disciple of Christ is, one that follows or one who takes on the lifestyle of Christ.
The life of a Christian is a life of discipline, it is a life of continual practice of the same things to become more perfect with each repetition. The Christian life is something more like an art than a science. We come together and we practice as a group, then we go out into the world and we apply what we have practiced in the wider community. We learn and we apply. We have repeated exercises to highlight certain aspects of devotion so we can review and reapply those skills around those we love. Unfortunately, being a disciple of Christ usually does not have fancy indicators of mastery like the disciplines of various martial arts. I will not be passing out various colored belts to indicate to those around you that you have moved to the next level. But similar to the skills a student learns in those disciplines the life of a Christian has constant review and application. This is why we continue to walk with Jesus through the Gospels, this is why we continue to read the epistles and apply them to the testimony of Christ found in the gospels. This is why we look at the books of the law and the oracles of the prophets through the light of Christ in the gospel, because Christ is the master and perfecter of faith and he is the one through which we obtain life.
Jesus was spending time worshiping with his community at the synagogue in Capernaum, during this time of worship a man with an evil spirit came forward and started to make a scene. Jesus freed the man from this demon and the community was amazed. But this action had a cost. That evil spirit knew who Jesus was. During the exchange the spirit said, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” We might now realize what this might have meant at the time but this announcement by the spirit was an attempt to discredit Christ.
Everyone has some sort of idea as to what the purpose of Jesus is. As soon as those words were uttered certain those ideas were set into motion. The scriptures speak a great deal about the promised messiah and what his purpose will be. He will be a king that will restore Israel to a kingdom without an end. He would be a priest to bring Israel back to God. He would be a military leader to conquer all those nations who oppose the nation. He would be…
All these ideas going through the minds of everyone present at the synagogue that day. Everyone had some idea as to who Jesus might be. And Jesus goes home to Simon’s house. There was another prophecy that was on their minds as well, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and he ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and he thirsty ground springs of water the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way…” The evil spirit announced that Jesus was the one, and Simon takes Jesus home and they tell him about Simon’s mother in law.
At this moment the disciples are not fully sure what life with Jesus might be. They have ideas in their mind but those ideas have not been fully developed or disciplined. Simon takes Jesus to his home and he is remembering the various things Jesus has said so far, he is reminded of the things that John the Baptist has said, and he concludes that if Jesus is in fact the son of God, then he should bring him home to see his mother in law.
Much of our faith begins like this. We hear stories of people’s lives being changed and we wonder if maybe Jesus could take away our problems or heal our pains and illnesses. That is basically what the prophecy in Isaiah indicates. The messiah will take everything wrong around you and make it right. This sounds great. But it is not the whole truth.
Simon took Jesus home with him. His mother in law was laying in her bed sick with a fever. I want us to consider the situation here a bit because it is difficult for us to totally grasp what this would look like in our contemporary culture. Simon was a simple fisherman. His living space was not some grand manner house, but most likely a one room apartment. It is very possible that it might be attached to a complex of rooms that the other members of his family also lived, all joined together in a courtyard. In this court yard they would potentially have outdoor cooking facilities that all the rooms shared, but not necessarily because at times where all the rooms met would just be the place the children would be sent to play. But the family would live in one room. Everything they owned would be in one room. All the children and their parents would be in that one single room. The bedding, the various cooking tools, the clothing, the lamps, the fishing tools all packed into this one room. In the evenings they would all lay mats on the floor and sleep together in this one room. In the morning they would pick up the mats and would convert the room into a workspace. If a member of the family was ill, they would remain on their mat and the entire family would have to work and play around them. Simon’s mother in law was ill, the family was cooking and work around her. She was sprawled out in the middle of the floor while various members of the family attended to her needs. Everyone was very aware of the illness, and there was no place to go to get away from her. Jesus came into the house and he saw her laying there on the floor.
We are told that Simon and Andrew informed Jesus of the mother in law’s condition. I often wonder about this. Did they tell him with the hopes that Jesus would heal her? Up to this point Mark only informs us of one miraculous sign, the healing of the man with the unclean spirit. They quite possibly warned Jesus of her condition because of the ideas of illness at that time. Most ancient cultures believe that illness was caused by some transgression. In polytheistic societies they believed they angered the gods in some way and the only cure would be to offer appeasement sacrifices to spare the loved one. The Jewish culture was not as superstitious but even with them they believed that your life and its prosperity or illness was a direct result of God’s pleasure or displeasure with you personally. Could it be that Simon and Andrew were afraid of Jesus, afraid of what he might think of them when there was a member of their family sick laying on the floor? There is a third possibility as well, many illnesses that would render people ceremonially unclean. Especially illness that had any form of bodily discharge, we are told that Simon’s mother in law was ill with a fever, but maybe it was something more, maybe she was ceremonially unclean and for Jesus to enter the house he would then be unclean himself. This is a valid argument because religious leaders at this time were greatly concerned with cleanliness because it reflected their righteousness. They would not associate with people that were unclean. Of course, this was not the intent of the law, but ancient cultures without the knowledge of microorganisms could not understand the concepts of contagious diseases, which is largely what the cleanliness laws of Moses try to prevent. They try to prevent the spread of disease.
We do not know why Simon and Andrew warn Jesus of the mother’s illness, but we do know that Jesus was not concerned with cleanliness or her righteous standing. He went to the woman, he reached out and took her hand, and he lifted her up. As she rose to her feet the fever left her body and she was restored to health. She immediately began to serve the family. Remember she would have been laying in the middle of the room and the entire house would have been devoted to her care, the fact that she began to serve them means that she cleared out her mat and converted the space to accommodate a meal.
I want us to stop there for a moment. And consider what just happened. We do not know why Simon and Andrew warned Jesus of the mother’s condition. We often assume that they told him because they wanted Jesus to provide some form of healing, but there is no indication as of this point in Mark’s account of the story that Jesus had the ability or power to heal the body. But from the testimony of John the Baptist we do know that repentance of sin was a concept many in the area were aware of. We are also aware of the ancient concept that illness was a result of sin. Could it be that what Jesus demonstrated to Simon and the other disciples was that he had power to forgive sin? He had the ability to remove from anyone the root problem of sin?
Jesus spent the remaining day in the company of Simon’s family. And when evening came the entire village came to the house. They waited because it was unlawful to carry a burden on the sabbath day. The moment the sun set, the sabbath was over so the entire town brought all who were ill and demon possessed to Jesus. The entire city had heard or had seen what Jesus did that morning in the synagogue and they heard the testimony of the unclean spirit. They had all heard the preaching of John in the wilderness that there would be another who would come after him, who John would even be unfit to untie the thongs of his sandals. This greater person would not baptize with water for the repentance of sin, but would baptize with the holy Spirit and fire. They came because there were many in their community that were gripped by illness. There were many who would be seen as unrighteous and suffering the wrath of God. They came seeking hope. Hope that maybe Jesus would be the one that could chase away all their problems and restore the nation to its former glory.
The sick were not the only ones to be brought to Simon’s porch, also among them were those possessed by evil spirits. But this time Jesus did not allow the spirits to speak. Instead he commanded them to remain quiet. I wrestled with this verse this week. Why would Jesus command the spirits to be silent? When the spirits were confessing Jesus’ true nature, I would think they were actually promoting the mission of Christ. But this is where discipline comes into play.
If the spirits were all screaming that Jesus was the holy one of God, Jesus’ true purpose might not have been obtained. Instead everyone would be coming not for the change of lifestyle Jesus was teaching but for the spectacle. Everyone would come to Jesus for what they could gain instead of learning what it meant to live life with God and God with us. We still see this today. There are many who seek the miraculous, demanding that God provide healing for their loved ones, demanding that God set their financial distress in order, but where is their faith when God does not cave to their demands? I truly believe that God can do miraculous feats even today, I have seen things that I can only describe as being a miracle. But I do not believe that this is normative. The demand of the miraculous causes us to develop the concept that we are only in God’s presence when things are going well, but where is God when we are sprawled out on the mat unable to move because of fever?
Jesus’ miraculous healings were there to assist in the proclamation of the kingdom, they were not the sign of the presence of the kingdom. Jesus, the very son of God, faced everything that we face. He faced the exact temptations, he faced the family struggles, and the need to work hard to fulfill a request on time. He was fully human and yet fully God. He is God with us. The healings that Jesus provided were tools in the spreading of the message. Because of their concept of blessing and curses they thought that illness was the result of sin, to prove his power over sin Jesus provided the healing of disease to prove the point. As we understand both the nature of sin and illness these miraculous feats seem to decrease in frequency but they do not disappear. Because God will do what is necessary for the expansion of his kingdom here.
After the night of healing and silencing of demons Jesus withdraws from the house and goes to an isolated place. This is probably the most important portion of this passage. Jesus withdrew to a silent place to pray. Within the first chapter of Mark we are shone the complete cycle of Jesus’ holy lifestyle, the very lifestyle we are called to reflect. He withdrew to the isolated, the desert wildernesses to pray. In the first chapter we see this twice. The first occurrence was when Jesus was tempted in the desert and the second is here after he heals many. He then engages with the community and worships with them. And he ministers and serves their various needs. After this he returns to the isolated place to pray. Prayer, worship, service. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. This leads us back the question I began with, what does it mean to be a Christian? Does it mean we perform miraculous signs? Does it mean we speak the languages of the angels? Does it mean we have a strong moral code? All of those are partially right or could be partially right, but none are perfect. To be a true Christian means we follow Jesus in his life. We take on his lifestyle and are not swayed by the winds of our day.
The first disciples lost track of Jesus that morning, they went out hunting for him. Searching everywhere, but why? They thought they might be in the presence of the Holy one of Israel. They went searching because Jesus had power to control the demons and he could heal the sick and they wanted him to begin to restore the kingdom of Israel the way they thought it should be formed according to their interpretation of scriptures. They wanted to go back to the town to bring more people to be healed to build a greater following and potentially lead the revolution. They sought Jesus and they found him in that isolated place and when they found him they said, “everyone is searching for you.” But Jesus looks at them and says, “Let’s go to the other towns.”
To be a Christian, to be a follower of Christ, or to be his disciple is to take on his life and lifestyle. It is to become a disciplined student following the training and teachings of the Master till we reflect his ways in all that we do. It is a constant return to the beginning and practicing all over again. It is setting aside the desires of our own selfish ambitions and answering the call deep within us to follow him. But what do we find when we do this? We find our true selves. We find the person we were created to be, and as we come closer to God with us in Jesus we also see who God is through those around us. What does it mean to be a Christian today? It is the exact same as it has always been, we meet Christ in the gospel and we follow him in prayer, worship and service to others. As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends let us embrace the lifestyle of Jesus and answer the call to build his kingdom here.
Image by: Father Victor Hoagland