St Luke's Anglican Church in Enmore a lively, inclusive welcoming liturgical community

He lifted her up

He lif­ted her up

Ser­mon preached at St.Luke’s Enmore, 5th Sunday after Epi­phany, 4th Feb­ru­ary 2018

Read­ing: Mark 1. 29–39

In the Gos­pel pas­sage for today, Mark gives us a day in the life of Jesus, begin­ning on the Sab­bath morn­ing with the heal­ing in the syn­agogue and con­tinu­ing through the day until sun­down and con­clud­ing with the early morn­ing of the next day. The nar­rat­ive begins with one of Mark’s favour­ite expres­sions: ‘As soon as’. Three words in Eng­lish, but just one in Greek. The word is also trans­lated as ‘imme­di­ately’ or ‘straight­away’. Everything in Mark seems to hap­pen in a hurry. His text is fast paced and vibrant.

Jesus and his very new fol­low­ers, Simon and Andrew, and James and John are in Caper­naum where they have atten­ded the syn­agogue on the Sab­bath. In the syn­agogue Jesus has amazed the wor­ship­pers with his teach­ing and know­ledge of the Hebrew Scrip­tures and has then startled them by heal­ing a man pos­sessed with an unclean spir­it. The ser­vice over, Jesus and his fol­low­ers move quickly to Simon’s home for Sat­urday lunch. But all is not well in Simon’s house — his moth­er in law is sick with a fever. Being ill with a fever was a much more ser­i­ous con­di­tion in the pre-anti­bi­ot­ic world of the first cen­tury than it is for us today. We would love to know more about the fam­ily situ­ation in Simon’s house­hold but Mark’s account is sparse. There is no men­tion of Simon’s wife and no explan­a­tion as to why his moth­er in law is liv­ing with them. Per­haps she is wid­owed or per­haps has moved in to help in the house now that Simon Peter is spend­ing so much time in the com­pany of Jesus and the oth­er dis­ciples. Clearly she sees her­self as the mat­ri­arch and would have been mor­ti­fied that she was too sick to provide hos­pit­al­ity for her son in law’s guests.

Hav­ing been made aware of Simon’s moth­er in law’s con­di­tion Jesus goes to her, takes her by the hand and lifts her up. In that cul­ture to touch a woman not related to you was con­sidered offens­ive and to touch one who was sick and there­fore unclean was doubly so. But Jesus often healed in a way which flouted the pur­ity laws of his day, believ­ing that com­pas­sion trumped leg­al­ism. Jesus heals Simon’s moth­er in law quietly and without fuss, ‘he took her by the hand and lif­ted her up.’ That the heal­ing was com­plete is demon­strated by the fact that she imme­di­ately began to serve her guests.

Now I sus­pect many of us feel some dis­quiet about this epis­ode. Why did this woman feel she had to get up and serve the men straight­away? Surely on this occa­sion they could have made the effort of get­ting them­selves a bit of lunch? It is nat­ur­al for us to think like that but we fail to under­stand the import­ance of hos­pit­al­ity in that cul­ture. A woman in her pos­i­tion would have been ashamed to have any­one else take over her role. Fur­ther­more the word trans­lated as ‘serve’ is an inter­est­ing one: it is the Greek word from which we get our word, ‘dea­con’. Simon’s moth­er in law’s response to her heal­ing was to serve Jesus and his friends in the way she knew best, provid­ing food for them. Jesus him­self described his min­istry as being one of ser­vice to oth­ers. Mark uses the verb, ‘to serve’, only of women and angels and Jesus, nev­er of the male dis­ciples. So the word does not den­ig­rate Simon’s moth­er in law –it affirms her and some have described her as the first dea­con of the church. At the end of Mark’s gos­pel he tells us that there was a group of women who stood at a dis­tance, watch­ing the cru­ci­fix­ion, (the male dis­ciples hav­ing fled) and that they had provided for Jesus when he was in Galilee. ‘Provided for’ is anoth­er trans­la­tion of diako­neo-they dea­coned. Per­haps Simon’s moth­er in law was among their ranks.

On the even­ing of that same day when Jesus healed in Simon’s house, a huge crowd of people turned up want­ing to be healed. They had waited until the even­ing because heal­ing was not allowed on the Sab­bath- a rule that Jesus had ignored in the Syn­agogue. Is Mark get­ting a bit car­ried away when he says that ‘the whole city was gathered around the door?’ Well maybe but in first cen­tury Caper­naum there prob­ably wasn’t a lot hap­pen­ing on Sat­urday night: watch­ing an itin­er­ant preach­er, heal­ing the sick and per­form­ing exor­cisms may have been the only show in town. Jesus’ min­istry was to the whole per­son, mind, body and spir­it. He healed vari­ous dis­eases and cast our many demons. He is still in the busi­ness of mak­ing people whole, mak­ing us into the people he wants us to be — freed from the things which bind or trouble us. It’s a life- long pro­cess which will con­tin­ue until the day when we see him face to face.

We can be sure that giv­en the size of the crowd who gathered that even­ing it would have been very late before Jesus finally got some rest. Des­pite the demands of that day Jesus rises very early the next morn­ing and goes to a deser­ted place for time alone with God. Hav­ing con­fron­ted so much pain and human suf­fer­ing the night before Jesus needs time for com­mu­nion with his Fath­er God. The com­ment­at­or, Eugene Bor­ing notes “that in the pre­ced­ing scenes Jesus does not pray to God but acts as God…Mark jux­ta­poses the pic­ture of the weak human Jesus and the pre­ced­ing pic­ture of the power­ful Son of God, so that in these open­ing scenes there is a mini sum­mary of the Gos­pel as a whole.” Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Pray­er was a resource for our Lord and it remains a power­ful resource for us. In my exper­i­ence many Chris­ti­ans, myself included often think their pray­er life is rather poor or inad­equate. But pray­er takes many forms and there are no rules about how or when one should pray. Pray­er is con­ver­sa­tion with God, which includes ask­ing (peti­tion), thanks­giv­ing, praise, or just simply telling God how you feel. We pray togeth­er as a com­munity on a Sunday or dur­ing the week but we also pray privately in our own home or dur­ing the day in the ordin­ary activ­it­ies of our life. God is always delighted to hear our pray­ers. Those of us who are par­ents know how much we enjoy it when our chil­dren keep in touch and share their joys and sor­rows with us. We know the hurt when chil­dren for whatever reas­on decide they don’t want to com­mu­nic­ate with us. God wants to hear from you and me. Often.

Intrud­ing into Jesus’ time of quiet and reflec­tion, comes the blun­der­ing Simon. Simon the fresh faced new dis­ciple is determ­ined that Jesus gets as much expos­ure as pos­sible, espe­cially in his home town. Simon and his mates hunt Jesus down and insist that Jesus con­tin­ue the work he was doing the pre­vi­ous day. “Every­one is search­ing for you,” they say. But Jesus knows he must move on. Heal­ing the sick was part of his min­istry but not the whole part. He had a mes­sage to pro­claim. The mes­sage was the good news of the king­dom, namely that in the per­son of Jesus, God was doing some­thing new and rad­ic­al. Jesus was preach­ing a mes­sage of recon­cili­ation-bring­ing men and women of all races, classes and creeds into rela­tion­ship with God so that they could find for­give­ness and whole­ness. It wasn’t just a mes­sage for Caper­naum or even for Galilee it was a mes­sage for all people every­where. It would take the dis­ciples a long time to fully under­stand this mes­sage. Jesus had to lead his fol­low­ers into new and unex­pec­ted dir­ec­tions. He had to open their minds to see things they had nev­er thought pos­sible. Only then would they be able to pro­claim the good news that the king­dom of God had arrived in the life, death and resur­rec­tion of Jesus. We are like those dis­ciples, often reluct­ant to have our lives dis­rup­ted by God’s call to ser­vice and pre­fer­ring to stay with­in our com­fort zone. But Jesus wants to use us in his min­istry to a needy world, which is des­per­ate for the good news of his love and mercy.

In the house of Simon Peter, Jesus ‘lif­ted up’ Simon’s moth­er in law and restored her to health. Mark is the only one of the Evan­gel­ists who uses that expres­sion to describe heal­ing.  But it can­not help but remind us of Jesus own use of this expres­sion when he declared in John’s Gos­pel, ‘And I, when I am lif­ted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ As we gath­er this morn­ing to cel­eb­rate the Euchar­ist we remem­ber again the cost of our sal­va­tion. As the early Church theo­lo­gian Ori­gen wrote, ‘He, the Redeem­er, des­cen­ded to earth out of sym­pathy for the human race. What is this pas­sion which He suffered for us? It is the pas­sion of love.’

Philip Brad­ford