Lectionary Passage Mark 1 vv 29 – 39
A Day in the Life……
Another quite brief passage taken from the long opening Chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Mark gives us details of a sort of representative day in the life of Jesus during His Galilean ministry. The day, and it was a Sabbath, had started in the Synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus, as was his custom, had joined in the regular Act of Worship and had been offered the opportunity to teach. After the healing of the man who caused such a commotion, Jesus and some of the disciples move on and the day moves on.
Three quite short paragraphs describe other events of that day and move into the early hours of the following morning. There is the account of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, a picture of crowds thronging around, bringing their sick and needy ones, and the description of an early rising Jesus seeking solitude and prayer but interrupted by the disciples who want to pull him back to their town.
I want to focus on two verses. Firstly, in verse 31 ‘He went to her (Simon’s mother-in law), took her by the hand, and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began to wait on them.’
Oh, to be able to have just a little more information! Mother-in-law is mentioned but not Simon’s wife. Who was she and where does she fit into the story of Simon’s discipleship over the next three years and beyond? In last week’s story we read about a healing – a man, a man possessed by an evil spirit. Here it is a woman with a fever. Two specific but very different healing stories. At least according to the passage, no words are spoken. The touch of Jesus is sufficient. The healing and her restoration to health is immediate. So much so that ‘The fever left her, and she began to wait on them.’ The Living Bible has at this point the phrase ‘She prepared dinner for them.’ Some may see this statement as somewhat demeaning – a woman waiting on men. It’s not that at all – in fact the very opposite. As elsewhere in the Gospels, it is a woman, in this case Simon’s mother-in- law, who shows the characteristic of the true discipleship that is in the pattern of Jesus Himself. We see the humble service offered to others in her.
To me the key phrase is ‘the fever left her’. It seems to me that the word ‘fever’ is a wide embracing word that has a meaning that extends far beyond any medical terminology. Often, immediately after the words of Committal at a crematorium or a graveside, I use the prayer that begins ‘Support us, O Lord, all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over…’. In the Hymn from that outstanding poetic genius – Fred Pratt Green – we sing ‘For he alone, whose blood was shed, can cure the fever in our blood.’ One of the early Church Fathers, the scholarly Jerome, preaching in Bethlehem in around 400 AD said ‘Each and everyone of us suffers from fever.’ Isn’t it true for us today? The fever of pride, the fever of anger, the fever of self-righteousness, the fever of acquiring and possessing stuff. The fever list could go on and on.
In another Pratt Green Hymn ‘O, Christ the Healer’, we sing the verse,
‘From every ailment flesh endures
Our bodies clamour to be freed;
Yet in our hearts we would confess
That wholeness is our deepest need.’
And then there is the Hymn (no longer in our present Hymn Book) which begins with reference to this passage ‘At even, when the sun was set, The sick, O Lord, around thee lay.’ and which ends ‘Thy touch has still its ancient power;’ Like Simon’s mother-in-law, we need the touch of Jesus to cure the fever in our blood and to bring us that wholeness which is God’s will for us and for the whole of His creation.
To me the second key verse is the response of Jesus to the disciples’ demand ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ Jesus replies ’We must go on to the other villages round here, I have to preach in them also, because that is why I came.’ Those disciples whose home was Capernaum were comfortable in the place and familiar with the people. They wanted Jesus on home turf, limited and safe.
For Jesus, the twin approach of His ministry was Healing and Preaching – again with a very wide interpretation of ‘preaching’. As we shall see as we work through Mark’s Gospel, although the ministry of Jesus starts within the limited geographical region of Galilee – ‘the other villages round here’, He is intent on reaching beyond – to the north to the Phoenician city of Tyre -Mark 7 v 24; to the east Gerasa on the other side of the lake, Mark 5 v 1; and, of course, to the south – to Jerusalem. Jesus is quite clear, His purpose in coming is to bring the Good News of God’s Love to all.
The suggested passage from the Epistles for this Sunday is from the ninth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Church in Corinth. In that chapter Paul reflects on the impetus that he feels to preach. He writes ‘God has entrusted me with this task.’ ‘I am under orders to do so.’ ‘How terrible it would be for me if I did not preach the Gospel.’ vv16 & 17. In a marvellous verse, Paul sums up his work and his passion for sharing the Gospel ‘So I become all things to all men, that I may save some of them, by whatever means are possible.’ Chapter 9 v 22.
The word ‘other’ in the sentence of Jesus, the word ‘all’ in the sentence of Paul are all inclusive, all embracing. Whether in humble service or in confident proclamation, like Paul and Jesus Himself, we are in the business of testifying to the power of the healing touch of Jesus and the gift of wholeness He brings. As with Paul, there is a Divine Imperative which does not let us off the hook. Our calling as Christians, by whatever means possible, and to whoever we can reach, is to tell the Good News and to love one another – never more important than in these testing times that we are living through with the pandemic.
Bryan Coates February 2021