The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany; Year B (2/4/2018)

Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1st Corinthians 9:16-23
St. Mark 1:29-39

Prayer of the Day:
Everlasting God, you give strength to the weak and power to the faint. Make us agents of your healing and wholeness, that your good news may be made known to the ends of your creation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

 1:29 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 sunset, 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. 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.

St. Mark 1:29-39 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Should Healed Women Wait Tables?

There are three stories in this text, which could easily lead to three sermons (at least!), each quite different from the others. But my attention keeps being drawn back to the first story. Jesus has just cast an unclean spirit out of a man in the synagogue at Capernaum (we focused on this story last week). As soon as they leave the synagogue they enter into Simon Peter’s house, where his mother-in-law is quite sick. With precious little detail, St. Mark tells us that Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up, and the fever leaves her. Of course the one detail he does include is that once she is healed, she begins to serve him.

Many preachers and Bible study leaders will be tempted to insert one or two snarky comments here, reflecting on how much has changed (or, perhaps, hasn’t changed) in the two thousand years since this took place. It is doubtful, though, that the heart of this story has to do with gender roles, who should be serving, and who should be served.

Instead, the heart of this story has to do with the fact that Peter’s mother-in-law, whose illness has for some time prevented her from living out the fullness of the role she plays in her family and in her community, is immediately restored and gets back to work. The healing Jesus provides for her involves more than a change in her body temperature and in the behavior of the pyrogens that had made their way to her hypothalamus. It touches her entire life: her health, her relationships, her vocation, her capacity to love others, her service to her family, her delight in being able to make a difference in the world.

Jesus does this repeatedly in St. Mark’s Gospel. He lifts people up. The Greek word ἐγείρω (egeirō — “raise up”) is used often in St. Mark’s Gospel: with the paralyzed man they let down through a hole dug in the roof of the house where Jesus is teaching (2:11); with the man who has a withered hand (3:3); with the daughter of Jairus, who has died (5:41); with the boy possessed by an evil spirit, who is at the base of the mountain where the Transfiguration took place (9:27). Most importantly it is used in 16:6 — “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”

The story of Jesus is the story of being raised to new life. When the brokenness of this world crashes in, and we are unable to live fully as the people God intends us to be, the power of Jesus is able to take us by the hand, lift us up, and make it possible for us to begin again. To return to our calling. To fulfill our role in the family and the community. To be a sign of God’s grace and mercy in the lives of those who surround us.

And of course, to peek for a moment at the third story in the text, this is why Jesus makes his way to the neighboring towns, even though the people of his adopted hometown long for him to stay and address more of their needs. He too has a calling. He too has a role to play, 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.” (1:14b-15)

We are blessed by his proclamation, and delighted to join him in sharing it with the world.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What are the effects of the illness Pete’s mother-in-law has?
  2. What does it say that her friends and family tell Jesus about her illness at once?
  3. How does the healing of touch of Jesus help her return to her role in life?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What illness or brokenness has prevented me from being who God calls me to be?
  2. When have I felt the hand of Jesus raising me up, and empowering me to begin again?
  3. How might I join with Jesus in raising others up, and encouraging their faithfulness?

The author would love to hear what you think about this post.