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February 4, 2024

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Mark 1:29-39


Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

 grace and peace to you

 from the one who comes to raise us up. Amen

 

In the time after epiphany

 our scriptures point us to the places where Christ is revealed to us,

 the arrival of the magi from the east who followed a star,

Jesus’ baptism,

 his time in the desert,

 the calling of his first disciples,

his first sermon,

all reveal something of who Jesus is.

 

 Today as we finish out this time

 the whole of what Jesus has come to do

 is revealed to us

 in the story of the healing of Simon’s Mother-in-law.

 

 At first glance this brief story

 seems to be of small consequence,

Jesus has just taught in the synagogue

 and cast out an unclean spirit in front of a whole crowd,

 now he goes home for dinner with one of his disciples

whose mother-in-law is in bed with a fever,

 

 they tell him about her

Jesus heals her

 and she gets up and serves them.

 

If anything this story almost sounds offensively self-serving,

 like ‘okay you’re better woman now go get me a sandwich.’

 ugh, is Jesus just another member of the patriarchy?

No thank you.

 

But if we dismiss this story out of hand

we miss what is really happening here.

Even if we write it off as

 ‘oh that was a nice thing for Jesus to do for his host’

 we still miss what is happening.

 

 What happens here

 is what Jesus has come to do for the whole world

 in a microcosm.

 

Stick with me here,

 this is one of those times

where we’re really going to have to dig into a passage

 to get to the point

 but it’s worth it.

 

First off, Mark makes sure that we know that it’s still the sabbath,

 Jesus and his disciples leave the synagogue

 where Jesus has just astounded everyone present

 by teaching with authority

and casting out an unclean spirit.

 

The people are so amazed

 that they don’t seem to worry about

Jesus breaking the sabbath prohibition against work

they’ll get there later

but for right now they’re busy telling their neighbors all about Jesus.

 

 So Jesus and his four disciples

 (he only has four right now)

leave the synagogue and go home with Simon

 and once again Jesus is presented with someone who is unwell.

 

 Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever,

whether this fever was caused by an unclean spirit

 as might have been thought in the day

or she was just sick is unclear,

 

what is clear is that the household is worried about her

and they think that Jesus can do something for her

because they make sure to tell Jesus about her

 

and Jesus goes to her,

takes her by the hand and lifts her up.

 

Again this might seem like an ordinary

 if inadvisable action

but here Mark uses the same verb

 as he will use to describe Jesus’ resurrection.

 Just as Jesus rises from the dead on the third day,

 he raises Simon’s mother-in-law,

raising her up to health,

to new life,

restoring her to her place of honor in the household.

 

Jesus takes her by the hand

Raises her up

And the fever leaves her.

She is healed,

 and how does she respond?

 She begins to serve them.

 

Now note that Jesus does not command

 or even request her service,

and once again if we turn to the Greek,

we find that Mark specifies

 that these are not ordinary household chores

 but this is diakonew,

service that ministers to the others,

 

 this is the verb that the title Deacon comes from,

 this is the type of service

that the angels rendered Jesus in the desert

at the conclusion of his fasting and temptation.

 

This is more than service with a smile,

 it is service as a spiritual act.

 

This is what Jesus has come to do,

to serve others,

and in doing so raising them up to new life,

 a new life that is so profound

that the only response can be to turn and do likewise,

 and thus the whole world is raised and healed.

 

Simon’s mother-in-law gets it,

and she becomes Jesus’ first servant follower,

 even breaking the sabbath to do so.

 

 Mark makes sure that we know this happens

 before sunset and the end of the sabbath,

just as Jesus should have waited for the end of the sabbath to heal her,

 she should have waited to serve them

 but the sacredness of this mutual service

 surpassed the sacredness of the sabbath.

 

Commentator Ofelia Ortega remarks on all of this

 and adds: “Simon and the other disciples won’t understand it until Easter. They will not want to become servants of each other (9:35; 10:43). They did not perceive that the Son of God came to serve and to give his life for all (10:45). She, on the other hand, knows it. She has overcome all the selfishness and restrictive teachings and has been close to Jesus; deep down she is already Christian, diakonisa, a servant of the church gathered in her son-in-law’s house.” (Ortega, Ofelia. “Theological Perspective Mark 1:29-39,” in Feasting on the Word Year B vol. 1. Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville, KY. 2008. 334.)

 

To be fair it’s a hard lesson to learn,

generally we as humans like structure,

and here Jesus, along with Simon’s mother-in-law

 begin to demonstrate that the Good News of the kingdom

that Jesus has come to proclaim and bring about

 is bigger and broader than the established religious structure

 and cannot and will not be contained by it.

 

 Jesus has already moved

 from the synagogue to the home to continue his work,

as the sunsets and the sabbath ends

 the town gathers around the doorway of the home

 and Jesus continues to heal

 

 and even then Jesus won’t be contained to this one town.

 He gets up for some early morning prayer

 and the disciples hunt him down

 to try to bring him back to keep doing miracles

(they’ve found a good thing they want to keep it going)

 

and Jesus tells them no,

“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.” 

As important as Jesus’ healing ministry is,

 he knows that it is not the main point

and he will not let himself or the disciples get distracted

 (even by good work)

 from the ultimate work of proclaiming the message

 that will raise up the whole world.

 

So what are we to take away from this deep dive into this short story?

We find here that Jesus has come to raise us to new life,

 and that he will not let anything get in the way of that,

 religious structures,

disciples who don’t get it yet,

he won’t even let death get in the way.

 

And, having been raised to new life,

our response is service,

 to Jesus and to one another,

 

 not because we have to

 but because well,

how else are we supposed to respond

to the great gift that Jesus has given us

but to share it with others?

 

And yes, sometimes we won’t get it,

 or we’ll be stopped by self-imposed structures,

or we’ll get distracted by work that is good but not the main point,

and when we go to Jesus to try and reign him in,

to get him back to where we think he should be,

 not only will he refuse to go with us

 but he will remind us of the main point

and bring us along for the journey. Amen

 

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