Epiphany V Mark 1.29-39
The passage of Mark's gospel we heard today is Jesus' ministry in small. We hear Jesus beginning in the synagogue, he heals, he cast out demons,
he retreats to a deserted place to pray, he is sought after, he moves on, he proceeds with his ministry – with what he has to do, to become fully known as Christ Jesus. This passage ends as it begins - with Jesus in the synagogue.
This reflects the position of the church in Jesus' life. It frames all that he does, all that he is. He works within the context of his Father's house. Jesus begins with God and ends with God. Church is not the only place or time we are with God. However, it is an important place. A place put aside dedicated to, and for, God. The traveller in Philip Larkin's poem called Church Going came to know church as being a serious house on serious earth.
This is a serious place and serious things occur here . . . to be present for God, and to allow God to be present for us, is serious. Jesus leaves the synagogue after Sabbath worship, entering the home of Simon and Andrew, and spending the rest of the day in that domestic space. This might sound like a trivial detail, but I love the fact that Jesus lingers at home, blessing an ordinary, everyday location with his presence, and honouring it as a sacred site where the work of God’s kingdom goes forward.
We know from the rest of the Gospels that some of Jesus’s most significant encounters happen in homes. He performs his first public miracle at a home in Cana. He raises Jairus’s daughter in the synagogue leader’s house. His friend, Mary anoints him with oil at her home in Bethany. Salvation comes to Zacchaeus when the tax collector welcomes Jesus as a houseguest. And the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognise Jesus when he breaks bread at their dinner table. Holy things happen in the places we call home. God’s power and presence is not limited to official sacred spaces. Where we call home is not second best when it comes to seeking and finding Jesus.
Jesus delights in the domestic. This delight is a particular comfort during these days of Covid, when we have just spent a surprising amount of time at home, when we have been largely confined to home. I hope you were able to find delight at home. Jesus is not put off by the mundane. He does amazing work in spaces we consider familiar and ordinary. What would it be like for us to honour our homes as Jesus honours Simon’s in our Gospel reading? To elevate our living spaces as sites for the sacred?
Simon’s mother-in-law was at home. And although not named nor is her illness – is touched by Jesus in a way that her life will never be the same.
It is written that on being healed she serves them. Mark’s Gospel tells us that as soon as Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, she “begins to serve.” The verb Mark uses to describe the mother-in-law’s service is the same verb the Gospels use to describe the angels who attend Jesus after his forty days in the wilderness.
It is the same verb Jesus uses to describe himself when he washes his disciples’ feet: I am among you as one who serves. It is the same verb the early church uses to commission deacons, the “servant” leaders of the church. Simon’s mother-in-law is the first person Jesus liberates and commissions into service for God. The next morning, Mark writes, while it’s still dark, Jesus goes to a deserted place to spend time with God. This is not a one-off; we know from the other Gospels that prayer was one of Jesus’s daily practices: "But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). “After he had sent the crowds away, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray; and when it was evening, he was there alone" (Matthew 14:23).
In seemingly "minor" verses like these, we see glimpses of Jesus' deeply grounded spiritual life, the source of his strength and vision. We see his need to withdraw, his hunger for solitary prayer, his inclination to rest, recuperate, and reorient his heart. These glimpses take nothing away from Jesus' divinity; they enhance it, making it richer and all the more mysterious. They remind us that the Incarnation truly is Christianity's best gift to the world. The Christ - the Messiah of the whole universe – prays, rests, reflects, and meditates. He needs time alone. He needs time alone with God. He is just like us in our need for time alone with God. Also like us, Jesus understands the ongoing and necessary tension between compassion and self-protection in a world bursting with desperate need. Jesus lives with this tension every day, and he is unapologetic about his need for rest and solitude. Even as the crowds throng to him, he feels no shame in retreating. This is a lesson for us. Unapologetic about our need for rest and solitude. It’s also a challenge to those of us who might think about prayer a lot – without actually setting aside time to pray. When our hours and days are measured, how many of them will we have spent alone with God?
When it is time the disciples find Jesus – we hear they hunted for him – they were desperate – worried for his safety perhaps … or that he may have left them … or that he was not doing as they thought he should – healing the many more at the door.
There does sound a degree of irritation, if not exasperation, when, on finding
Jesus, they say
Everyone is searching for you.
Jesus is being reprimanded, and not for the last time.
Jesus replies Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.
Came out to do –
- came out of the wilderness after being baptised?
- came out of the synagogue?
- came out of Capernaum, Nazareth?
- came out of Simon and Andrew’s house?
- Or came out from the disciples and other people’s
Expectations of the boy from Nazareth – where nothing good comes from – came out into the divinity as God’s beloved Son. Came out to be deeply and closely known. Not by word alone, but by experience, in pain and in comfort. This is what Jesus came out to do. This is what Jesus comes out to do. This is indeed a serious house on serious earth.