Isaiah 40:21-31 | Psalm 147:1-11, 20c | 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 | Mark 1:29-39
Our Gospel reading today picks up right after our Gospel reading from last week, which, if you weren’t here or you don’t remember, was about Jesus preaching in a synagogue and then casting out a demon. These two passages – the one from last week and the one for today – cover one 24-hour period of time. Our passage today begins, “As soon as they left the synagogue.” This phrase “as soon as” can also be translated “immediately.” The Greek word is euthys, and it’s one of Mark’s favorite words. It pops up everywhere in his Gospel. Whenever you see phrases in Mark’s story like “As soon as,” or “just then” or something similar it’s probably the word euthys and you can substitute the phrase with the word “immediately.” Mark’s story of Jesus moves quickly. Jesus and his disciples are always doing something “immediately.” Unlike John, who likes to tell a story and then go to great lengths to explain the theological significance of events, Mark moves quickly from one event to the other, leaving it up to us to dig for the deeper meaning.
Mark’s writing style is akin to that of Ernest Hemingway’s, who wrote in what became known as the “iceberg theory.” Hemingway’s stories are sparse, but that doesn’t mean they lack meaning. Instead, they are like an iceberg – the part you see sticking out of the water – the words that are actually written – are only about 10% of the whole iceberg, or the actual meaning. 90% of the iceberg is below the surface. That is the way Hemingway wrote – only 10% of his stories were actually written with ink, the other 90% was just below the surface, lurking underneath the words. The deeper meaning is that which is not said. This means that every word, every sentence, every detail of Hemingway’s writing is significant. What is written is meant to point the reader to that which is not written. Raymond Carver would be another example of an author who used the “iceberg theory.”
This is the way that much of the Bible, especially the book of Mark is written as well, so much happens in these 10 short verses. I have a short video that I’d like us to watch to help us better understand the style the Bible was written in, and what it requires of us as readers.
Watch video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhmlJBUIoLk
What did you think of that video? Do you think it’ll change the way you approach reading the Bible?
Mark is a pretty prime example of the kind of stripped down writing the video talked about. So much happens in our reading from last Sunday and this Sunday (only about 20 verses), but not very many details are given. Mark tells us that in one short day Jesus casts out a demon at the synagogue, heals Peter’s mother, is visited by “the whole town” of Capernaum and heals many people and casts out many demons, goes out and finds a solitary place to pray, is hunted down by the disciples, decides to leave town, and begins his travelling ministry…and finds time to sleep somewhere in there. All that in 24 hours. Bam, bam, bam.
We don’t have enough time to reflect on our entire Gospel reading for today – I think I only have about 10 minutes left – but let’s slow down for a minute and look at a few verses. Let’s look at the first story about Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law. Let’s slow down and take it sentence by sentence, not necessarily coming to conclusions, just noticing things.
The story begins with Jesus and his disciples leaving the synagogue and going into a home. That doesn’t seem too significant, right? But guess what? It is!
Mark was written after the time of Jesus, when many Christians were getting expelled from synagogues and were beginning to meet in homes. It’s very likely that the community Mark wrote to no longer felt welcome in synagogues and was meeting in house churches. On his missionary journey’s, Paul frequently visited synagogues first, but usually faced hostility there and instead went to homes where he was welcomed by followers of “the Way.” So bam! right away there’s a connection going on between this passage and others in the New Testament. This probably isn’t apparent to us on our first read, but if we meditate on Scripture throughout our lives, as the video recommended, we might begin to see connections like that as read the stories of Scripture day after day, year after year.
What exactly the significance of that connection is isn’t really clear, but, once again, we could meditate on that, seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. What does this movement from a place of worship to home have to say to me as an individual? What about us as a church that meets in our own place of worship?
The next two verses say, “Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.” Ok, so, once again, pretty straight forward. But, once again, let’s slow down.
I want everyone to close their eyes. Take a few deep breathes.
Now I need you to use your imagination. Put yourself in this scene from Mark’s Gospel. You’re in Palestine 2,000 years ago. You’ve just seen Jesus cast out a demon, and now you’ve walked across the street to Simon’s mother-in-law’s house. Enter Simon’s mother-in-law’s house, which is a one bedroom home. You’ve just walked in the doorway. What does it smell like? Is it hot inside? Or was it hot outside but cool inside? Who’s there? Jesus, Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Simon’s mother-in-law. Anyone else?
Move out of the doorframe, to where you can see Jesus as he approaches the sick woman’s bed. What does she look like? What color is her hair? Is she sleeping peacefully? Is she tossing and turning?
Jesus kneels next to her. What does his face look like? He’s just cast out a demon in the synagogue. Is he still thinking about that? Or is he fully present in this moment? Does he look calm? Worried? Upset? Is he fearful or self-assured.
Jesus takes the woman’s hand. How does he grab it? Gently? Cautiously? Firmly? With authority?
Mark says the fever “leaves” her, and he uses language similar to the way a demon leaves a body. The fever isn’t “cured,” it “leaves.” What does that look like? Envision it. Ponder for just a second what it could mean that Mark uses similar language to address both spiritual and physical torments.
In one fluid motion, as Jesus takes her hand he also lifts her up. I’m going to interject one little fact into your meditation that’s not apparent from our reading: the verb used for “lifted her up” is the same verb Mark uses to describe Jesus’ resurrection later in his Gospel. This isn’t just any old healing, this is a picture of resurrection. How does this affect the way you envision her rising from her bed. What’s the expression on her face? What about Jesus’ face? The disciples’?
Now think about other places in Scripture where humans are “raised up” just as Christ was raised up in his resurrection. Where else are people raised up into a new life through Christ? Where else do we use the language of resurrection for our lives? Baptism?
Simon’s mother-in-law is raised up by the hand of Jesus and she begins to serve. Now, originally, we may have thought of this passage as being pretty sexist. This woman, who isn’t even given a name, is cured just so she can serve? But now we’ve connected her healing to Christ’s resurrection, to our own baptism! She is freed from a fever. Now she’s a Christ-figure, showing us what it means to be a faithful disciple! She is a role model for us, and example of our own calling in Christ. We are freed, and raised up in order to serve.
What is the atmosphere in the home after Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law? What’s the mood? Sit in that moment for a minute. Look at the faces of the other disciples in the room. Look at Jesus.
Ok. You can open your eyes.
That was two verses worth of stuff we just spent time meditating on. And that’s definitely not the only details we could have zeroed in on. What are some others? Were there parts of the room you wanted to explore more? What were the noises like? Was there a detail I sped over too fast, moments you wanted to linger in for longer?
We don’t have time to go through the rest of this passage, but maybe this week you can read through the last 8 verses and meditate on them. For the next story, when the whole town comes to Jesus and he heals their sick and cast out demons, imagine you’re part of the crowd who comes to Jesus to be healed. What’s it like to see Jesus for the first time? How does he respond? What’s the rest of the crowd like? Why did you come? What in your life do you need Jesus to heal? How would you approach him? What would you ask him to do? How would he respond? And then, maybe, you can actually ask him to heal whatever it is as you realize that we can always approach Christ in prayer.
There is so much going on in Scripture. I’m really excited for the book study we’re doing on the book The Bible Tells Me So…. I’m glad many of us are discovering or rediscovering what a treasure the Bible is. I just want to encourage you to take time during your busy days to read Scripture and pray. I know that’s such an old concept, but it’s been a part of Christian tradition for as long as there’ve been Christians, and it was part of Jewish tradition before that. It’s nothing new or exciting, but it can be life changing. And if Jesus thought it was necessary to get away to a solitary place in order to commune with God, maybe we should to.
The past year or so my life has felt like it’s been filled with a bunch of “immediatelies,” just like Mark’s Gospel. And it’s more than just busyness. Just as the sick and demon possessed were showing up at Jesus’ door, so I feel that we are constantly confronted with brokenness and evil every time we turn on the news. The world seems overcome by violence and hate and divisiveness, as well as natural disasters and epidemics. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to continue his work of healing and redemption through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, but it can be so overwhelming. There’s so much to do.
We also need to retreat to a solitary place regularly, just as Jesus did. Our souls need rest, just as our bodies and our minds do. For Jesus this was an imperative as he travelled throughout Galilee preaching, healing, and casting out demons. Frequently he would steal away from his disciples to commune with his heavenly Parent.
In our reading this morning, when the disciples can’t find Jesus, our Bibles say “they went to look for him,” but that wording is way too tame. In his commentary on Mark, Joel Marcus (who I quoted last week as well), says, “This is a rather strange verb to use, since it is…almost always used in a hostile sense , for hunting down one’s enemies.” A better translation of the passage would be, “…[Simon] and those who were with him hunted [Jesus] down.”
That’s the kind of tenacity with which Simon Peter and his companions sought Jesus out. They’d only been with him, what, a couple days? And yet they realized they were lost without him.
May we also “hunt” for Jesus, and may we find him in places of solitude, even in the midst of all the “immediatelies” of life. And unlike Simon and his friends, who tried to pull him back to the hustle and bustle, may we simply sit at his feet and learn from him. May he cure the fevers that torment us, and raise us up. May he heal us daily that we might serve him daily. Amen.
 Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8, 202.
 Ibid 201.