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Quite a Full Day -- Mark 1:29-39 (5th Sunday After Epiphany)

Updated: Feb 13

Artwork: Jan Richardson

used with licensed permission

A couple of weeks ago, when we stepped into the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, I suggested we might call it “the breathless gospel.”[1] In Mark, right from the beginning, Jesus rises up out of the waters of baptism, and the action takes off. Jesus does this – and then, Jesus does this – and then, Jesus does this.  The reign of God – this new ordering of power – it is at hand – it is right here – it’s right now! One of Mark’s favorite words is – Immediately!  And then immediately! And then immediately!

That’s how this morning’s scripture begins: And immediately![2]  Jesus has just been at the synagogue, he has driven out a demon who was tormenting someone – and immediately, they make their way to the home of Simon Peter and Andrew – to their family compound. And then, in these action-packed 10 verses – in what is less than 24 hours – we see Jesus do just about everything that Jesus does. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law; and then, Jesus drives out demon after demon; and then, Jesus finds time to pray; and then, Jesus keeps on preaching; and then, Jesus sets out to the next town. Immediately. Immediately. Immediately. There is no time to spare. This is urgent good news. Coming to life everywhere.

This is quite a full day, and it would leave just about anyone breathless.

As we considered last week’s Scripture and God’s calling, we kept asking, “What does it sound like?” This morning, as Jesus proclaims the good news in action after action, we could just as easily ask – this reign of God – What does it look like?  This reign of God – what are all the ways that Jesus lives it out in this one quite full day?

Well, first, Jesus heals – Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law.  Yes, this is the story where a woman gets healed, and the first thing she has to do when she gets up is to start serving the men. My colleague Deb Krause – who was an expert witness in Janie Spahr’s trial – she says that all she has to do is say that in a Bible study, and women throughout the room start to nod.[3] Simon’s mother-in-law lives in the patriarchal world of their day. Notice that she is not named (not many women in the Gospel of Mark are). Notice that she is identified only by her relationship to men – she is Simon’s mother-in-law.[4]

Her world is a world of patriarchy and hierarchy – those things are true – and, we’re looking here for how the reign of God is breaking in – so let’s look a little closer. Jesus and the disciples leave the synagogue and immediately go to the home of Simon and Andrew. Think family compound – most folks then lived together in extended family. And immediately, they tell Jesus that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick. Without a word, Jesus takes her by the hand, and raises her up. No fancy incantation – no flashy show of strength – just the healing power of human touch.

And she rises up – that’s a resurrection verb, by the way – Jesus raises her up, and she begins serving. Now. Do you remember what the serving word in Greek is?  Deaconing. Diakoneo.  Her healing flows into Deaconing.  We’re in Mark chapter 1, and this is the second time that word has come up in the gospel. The first was when Jesus is in the desert being tempted, and angels come and deacon him – angels minister to him. In the whole Gospel of Mark, the only people who deacon – who minister – are angels and women.[5]Something is happening in this woman’s house – in the midst of this patriarchal world – in this house – in this family compound –  compassion and power are coming together to bring healing to this woman’s body, and this woman’s body is becoming what one writer calls “a conduit of grace.”[6] She rises up, and she goes into action. She becomes the one who is bringing life. In this patriarchal world.

Jesus heals her and raises her up, and no sooner does she get Jesus fed, than the whole city descends upon her doorstep. That’s what Scripture says – at sundown, at the end of Sabbath rest, the whole city comes to the door – they come to the doorstep, bringing many people, with many diseases and with many demons – all the sick and suffering.

Now, the concept of “demons” that comes to us from their world needs some translating. We think that what they describe as being tormented by demons might map onto what we say when we talk about mental illness. Jesus brings healing to every bit of us – body and spirit – we are whole beings. But it’s also important to say that for them in their world – “demons” were very real powers at work in the world to do us harm. So when Jesus drives out demons – he not only heals – he takes on the powers of the world – and he turns them on their head.

Jesus heals – Jesus heals many with many diseases – and he drives out many demons. Jesus takes on the powers of the world – and sends them running – and we’re only halfway through this 24-hour day.

And then, in this breathless gospel, on this breathless day, Jesus takes a breath. Maybe late into the night he gets a little sleep. But early in the morning, while it is still dark outside, Jesus gets up and goes away to a wilderness place – and he prays.  Jesus will do this at regular points in the gospel – amid its driving action – Jesus stops, withdraws, takes a breath, and prays. Not for long – the disciples hunt him down.  A multitude in need of healing isn’t far behind. But Jesus pauses, and breathes, and prays.

And there’s this moment I love. The disciples find him, and tell him of the pursuing crowd – and Jesus says – let’s go – in the other direction. Jesus keeps moving forward – he has worthy work to do. The people can follow – but Jesus is moving forward with and into this urgent good news.

Jesus takes a breath – but it is not a breath of disengagement. Jesus is not checking out from the work there is to do in the world. This breath is the inhale that supplies the air for the exhale. This breath is the breath that sustains. It’s like what Howard Thurman describes as “the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor.”[7] Jesus is fully human, living life in a human body, with all its beauty and all its limitation. Like us. And so, in the midst of urgent good news and worthy work, Jesus breathes – and prays – and he reconnects, and re-grounds himself, and replenishes his whole self for the continuing journey.

And then, immediately, Jesus keeps moving forward in this breathless gospel.

This past week, I’ve been reading and editing the church’s annual report – the final version should be coming to you on Tuesday – ahead of our congregational meeting. In this Annual Report, church leaders – committees – staff – working groups have taken time to describe the ways we have served together over this past year. If I could describe the story it tells in one word, I might say it is – breathless.  I also might say wow and thanks be to God for all the things the Spirit is bringing to life here.

·      The Annual Report describes a year of Deaconing – the deacons steadily, quietly giving folks rides to the hospital, distributing funds to help out with individual needs, taking meals to the sick, comforting families who mourn.

·      You’ll read of a community fridge (that didn’t exist a year and a half ago) – that is now on its second refrigerator because we wore the first one out – with a door that opens to receive what people have to give, and then opens again to give what people need.

·      Church and Society describes the continuing struggle to come to terms with and figure out how to live as the climate unravels – our interfaith gathering here, recognizing we are in this struggle together.

·      You’ll read of amazing work to restructure our systems of financial accountability, and a heartfelt effort to use faithfully the resources entrusted to our care for the good of the world in the name of Jesus. You’ll read that this past year offerings and pledges haven’t quite met what’s needed to sustain the ministries of the church. For me, that’s a sign that we are putting to use that which is entrusted to our care, and also a nudge to think carefully and intentionally about stewardship, and abundance, and growth.

·      You’ll read in the Annual Report of our continuing anti-racism work and learning – as it has evolved into learning from and in partnership with our neighbors in Marin City – learning, as a predominately white community, how to listen better to Black community leadership, how to come alongside, as they lead our shared work toward anti-racist solutions.

·      You’ll read of this vibrant life of worship – our Spring and Advent choir services, a packed house for the children’s Christmas Eve pageant, the weekly beauty of Natsuko’s and the choir’s music – our flowers – the new projection system – as we both sustain tradition and progress and grow into even more expansive community.

·      You’ll read of the vitality of the Preschool and this community’s ministries to children and families.

·      You’ll read of continuing thought and prayer and work to build partnerships that might let this be a place of accompaniment and shelter for refugees.

As I read and edited those breathless reports, I was filled with gratitude and awe. And with my pastor’s heart, I also have just a little concern that we take care not to stretch ourselves too thin – that we not wear out these bodies where we need the Good News to come from life. Now, I am not saying that we relent at doing urgently needed good in the world, or that we slack off, or that we claim the rest of the privileged.

Jesus moved at a breathless pace. And Jesus took a breath – never forgetting that there was a world to heal and to change – but always in the name of a God who loves human bodies, and desires human wholeness and health. Our work and our replenishing – our work and our worship and prayer – they are not either/or. They are one rhythm – one flowing into the other – one whole life.

So, I have two invitations for this week.  You can do this with your Annual Report in hand, or in your imagination. But as you read through the Annual Report, or think through our life in this community – and your experience of it:

First, just notice what is shimmering for you. What gives you energy? What draws you in? What calls out to you – I want to be a part of this? OR, what calls out, “oh, this is something where I have a skill I can bring?” OR, what makes you curious to find out more? There is worthy work to do in the name of Jesus for the good of the world. What can you bring?

And then second, also ask, where and how can I take a breath? How can we, together? I’ve shared that taking up a daily mindfulness practice has been transformative for me. Ten minutes a day to be fully present before the day rushes in. Or the rhythm of reading Scripture each morning. Or engaging in a daily practice of gratitude. Or our regular rhythm of worship. Or being together for meals and for fun – taking time to be fully present with each other – to get to know each other. In a troubled world, ever in need, what will replenish us to remain engaged in the blessing and joy of worthy work?

Before we leave this Scripture, let’s just spend a little bit more time with this woman we’ve been calling Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. And it’s just driving me crazy that she’s nameless in this story – so let’s imagine that she’s got a good Jewish name – Miriam, perhaps. When we meet Miriam, she is flat on her back, down with a fever – and she hears at the gates of her home – a commotion, the rumble of voices – and Peter and his friends enter her room. Good Lord.

And Jesus. And Jesus walks over to Miriam and takes her by the hand – and healing pulses through her body. The fever breaks, her strength returns – all in the gentle touch of calloused hands. And still holding her hand, Jesus raises her up. And Miriam is fully there; she’s back; the house is hers again: “You all get out of my room, and I will get you something to eat.”

And Miriam does, and they talk, and they laugh. She likes this Jesus. And as the sun starts to go down, they hear a crowd at the door – at first just a few people – but soon, the whole city. Miriam looks to Peter, and says, “Go, tell the household to get some more food going, we have mouths to feed.” And she says, “Jesus, you can have the courtyard, but these folks are coming in one by one – I don’t want a mob scene.” “Andrew and and the rest of you come with me. These people are sick and hurting. We need to make sure that the weakest can get to the door first. Make them as comfortable as you can. We want them to feel welcome.”

And this house. Her house. It becomes a place of healing and love.

What does this reign of God look like – this restructuring of power? Maybe... it looks like this.

There are scholars who note that throughout Mark it seems like Jesus has a home base – that there’s someplace he keeps returning.[8] Maybe, it was Miriam’s house – a healing place where Jesus feels safe to return, and to rest, and to replenish – so that he can keep moving forward.

And in those mornings when he stays there – very early – while it’s still dark, and everyone else is sleeping – Jesus heads down to the kitchen – where he finds Miriam sitting in silence, resting for the day ahead. She has some food for him to take into the wilderness, where she knows he’s going to pray. But first they just sit there together in the quiet company of a kindred spirit. And then, Miriam says softly, “You need to go. They’ll be coming for you, those disciples of yours.” And Jesus laughs.

And Jesus takes Miriam by the hand – and the world takes a breath – and together, they raise each other up.

© 2024 Scott Clark

[2] For general background on the Gospel of Mark and this text, see For general background on the Gospel of Mark and this scripture, see John Byron, Commentary in Connections, Year B, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press, 2020), pp. 239-242; Erin Dufault-Hunter, Commentary in Connections, Year B, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press, 2020), pp. 242-243; Pheme Perkins, “The Gospel of Mark,” New Interpreters’ Bible Commentary, vol.viii (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), pp. 525-36; Herman Waetjen, A Reordering of Power (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1989), pp. 63-74; Warren Carter, Mark (Wisdom Commentary, vol. 42; Sarah J. Tanzer and Barbara E. Reid, OP, eds.) (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2019); Douglas R.A. Hare, Mark (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996).

[3] See Carter, quoting Krause at pp.129-30

[4] See Carter, p. 125.

[5] See Byron, p.240.

[6] See Dufault-Hunter, p. 242

[8] See, e.g., Byron, p.241; see also Waetjen, p. 83, noting that the house “symbolizes horizontal relationships of family.”

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