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Pray, Work, Love

 5B Epiphany

4 Feb 2024

Mark 1


Mark likes to keep everyone in the dark about Jesus. Theologians call it the “Messianic Secret.”  You, the listener of Mark’s gospel, however, are privy to everything because it is being told to you after the fact, after the death of Jesus. But do you fully understand what the "secret" is?

What are these secrets and why, oh why, doesn’t Jesus want to talk about who he is?  Stay tuned during the remainder of the year of Mark to ferret out the answers.

Our story starts at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He is a busy person; on Friday he has chosen his disciples and then the very next day headed to a synagogue where he casts out a demon, (making himself someone who is a healer and at the same time willing to confront societal evils.)  No sooner had he left the synagogue then he goes to the home of Peter, taking Andrew, James, and John with him. Peter’s (unnamed) spouse was there, along with her also unnamed mother, who apears to have been very ill.  We know what comes next: he takes her hand.  Notice not a word is said. He took her hand.   Think of the times you held the hand of someone who was ill.  How many of us held our children when they were sick, comforting them and hoping they would get well. Jesus did something different, didn’t he?  What Mark said, but without saying anything, was that Jesus was not a traditional healer or physician but the one with “authority” who brings to humans, from Peter’s mother-in-law to those of us listening to my humble words, true healing.  He is here to restore the world, one human being at a time, one city, one state, one nation at a time.

Does it astound you that someone disabled by a fever would suddenly be able to arise with a glad heart and serve others?  That passage always bothered me, believing it enforced the role of women to serve no matter what.  But I am now convinced I was wrong! Peter’s mother-in-law was cured not just of a fever, but of the malaise that affects so many of us, the feeling that our lives are meaningless.  Jesus, without words, told her she was loved and she was a child of God and that her life counted. Jesus touched her and lifts her up. No wonder she then got up and started serving others.  It has been pointed out this unnamed woman was in truth the first deacon, literally someone who waits on or serves someone else. She took the Gospel message into the world. What does it mean to you that Jesus touches you?  For someone who considers themselves powerless or worthless, it means life is restored.  The words used, to lift up this woman, are the same words used to describe Jesus’ resurrection.  Jesus resurrects our life, lifts us up, and points us to a life to doing the same for others.  We are saved and we are called to be deacons. Healed and restored. It is beautiful.

Nor is that the end.  People come to the home just as that same Sabbath day was ending and bring those with all sorts of ailments.  Mark says the entire village was outside the door of the house. All of this took place in a remote small town.  This place was at the margins, physically and economically and this is where Jesus chooses to start his ministry among the people.

This is all done on the Sabbath and that is no accident.  For what is the Sabbath but a day of restoration?  I remember Blue laws, which kept virtually everything closed on Sundays.  One could argue that it gave people time to rest and it brought a welcome quiet from the chaos of the other six days, but the reasoning seemed more in line with one that enforced a grim Purititanical view of correct behavior that was designed to squelch any joy, not to mention overtly enforcing Christianity as the quasi-state religion. That is not Sabbath.

How did Jesus honor the Sabbath?  Not by sitting still, but rather by restoring wholeness and joy to society and the world.  Cast out the demons of the world, the forces of oppression and death, which recognized who Jesus was, and I say still recognize him for what he is, and then restore individuals to wholeness. Too often we either emphasis only our individual wrongdoings, our personal sins if you will, and look to Jesus as some sort of watchdog designed to keep us from doing things other people decide is sinful.  Jesus has a bigger goal for humanity: all people restored to right relationship with themselves, with others, and with God.  I think Jesus made it clear no one is beyond the reach of the love of God and that it is not up to us to decide who is in and who is out.  We all are at some point, or points, in our lives in bed with a fever.  Jesus is there to “cure” our ills and restore us to joy. 

Then he rests and before the next day’s work he goes to pray in a quiet place.  How often do we take the time to just “be” with God? Lent is drawing near. It is a time when we look at our mortality and the ways we have failed to live in the kind of health Jesus brings to us. Perhaps this year one could renew that quiet connection, that time of prayer without words. And once renewed, we, too, can go to other villages!

In the Medieval church in Europe, emphasis was on the “immortal soul” and what would happen after death.  Jesus makes it clear, however, that the emphasis is on this life and how we live it in relationship to others. It is on the marginalized places and peoples of the world, not on the rich and powerful. Politicians who profess their devotion to Christianity would do well to read Mark’s Gospel and then decide on laws and policies.  If it does not benefit those who are on the margins, it is not from God.

I think I need to go back and look closely at Peter’s mother-in-law.  Maybe it is good she does not have a name, for then she can be a stand in for all of us.  We all have a fever, and we are all ill; Jesus is the remedy.  And when we take the remedy, we can get up and show the world just what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, a deacon, one who serves with gladness because she knows she has been freed from the bonds of the world and has been recognized herself as a child of God. 

Pray, work, love.  That is the entire Gospel.  

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