As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “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.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Mark’s gospel is famous for its rapid almost terse movement. Jesus is a very busy man in this compressed narrative. The first chapter begins with the words,”The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” and in the first 13 verses, Jesus has been announced by John the Baptist, he has been baptized, and sent into the wilderness. In the next 16, Jesus announces his ministry, begins gathering his disciples, begins ‘teaching as one who has authority’ in the synagogue and then demonstrating that authority by casting out an unclean spirit. (““What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.“) Jesus has been called and his bona fides are being established. On another day, we can talk about the various healings and demons but on this day I want to focus upon the overarching proposition that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus has authority and Jesus has good news.
In the beginning of today’s scripture, Jesus is taking a break. He is visiting the home of Simon presumably for supper and a chance to relax. No such luck. On arrival, he learns that Simon’s mother in law is ill with a fever. So before he can sit down at table, Jesus goes to her, heals her and restores her to the family. Then, that evening, people start gathering. They brought him “all who were sick or possessed with demons.” —till “the whole city was gathered at his door.”
I can only imagine the people lining up, waiting their turn. Apparently Jesus was engaged with the people well into the evening. I imagine he was tired. Jesus got up early in the predawn morning and went to a deserted place. I imagine every parent in the universe has had days like this. The needs of our families and the community just keep coming. I have heard many mothers who retreated to the bathroom—even as a child was banging on the door—in order to have the briefest respite. Couples speak longingly of their first night out in months or their first weekend away by themselves in a year. And every one of these pressures is exacerbated by the isolation and anxiety surrounding the pandemic.
And if it isn’t challenging enough to come home from a long day to find supper delayed and your family needing immediate care, you look out the window and see long lines of people seeking your attention. In the time of Covid, our church is having trouble making its budget and it is having trouble nurturing connections. Our government is so polarized, it is nearly paralyzed. Issues that predate our generation—poverty, racism and global warming demand our mindfulness. The important needs of the people around us are relentless. It is time for a deserted place. It is time to share the fatigue, the questions and the uncertainties and pray.
Should I Stay or Should I Go
No matter how tired Jesus was, or how tired we are. It is a serious temptation to focus upon the immediate needs in front of us but if that is our only focus, we risk missing what is ultimately important. We are creatures. We are God’s children. It is hubris to measure ourselves as either indispensable—or as failures, for what we do.
Jesus could not do both—stay and move on. He had to make a decision—should I stay and continue to respond to the pressing needs right in front of him or should I go and spread the good news in new places? It is unfortunately it is all too easy to do important, even righteous things, that are off task.
There is a story about two fishermen on the shore who hear cries for help from a drowning man in the middle of the river. One of the fishermen throws his rod down, swims out to the man and saves him. This happens three more times. The fourth time, instead of saving the drowning man, the fisherman starts running upstream. His fishing companion yells after him, “You have to save him. I can’t swim.” His friend, however, continued to run upstream and yelled behind him—”I have to find the s.o.b. who is throwing them in.” If we can’t figure out the cause of a problem, our best efforts are likely to be misdirected—even if we are saving drowning people. This is a tricky conundrum because I’m pretty sure that the fourth man did not appreciate the fisherman’s decision. Just as I’m sure, there were plenty of people in Capernaum who did not like the fact that Jesus did not return to heal them.
As it turned out, after Jesus prayed, he decided to move on—-leaving a lot of people in line waiting to be cured. Jesus modeled the good news in an entirely unexpected way. We are called to love within the boundaries of our limitations. Mindfulness, kindness and loving are not just a function of the needs in front of us, it is also a function of our ability to give. Jesus could not do both—stay and move on. He had to make a decision—should he stay and continue to respond to the pressing needs right in front of him or should he go and spread the good news in new places? Jesus modeled the good news in an entirely unexpected way.
It turns out the good news that was most important for Jesus was not healing nor the casting out of demons. They are important but the good news is the promise that God loves us ‘just the way we are’—limited creatures. Our lives are not based on what we accomplish, whether or not we make good decisions or by the outcomes of our decisions.
Secularly, almost all of us seek to be ‘enough’ and are in a treadmill attempt to do more. We fear disappointing people and lodge our identity in our approval rating—whether that is measuring ‘likes’ on Facebook, counting the number of churchgoers, or competing for a promotion. What we do and how much we do is so deeply ingrained in our humanity, it is hard to live the faith claim that none of those things are indicators of God’s love. People might value us more but God’s love is different. Almost always we could, in fact do more. But everyone of us has to draw our own line. Jesus could have done more in Capernaum. I’m sure he disappointed many. Jesus demonstrated that love was important even when there was plenty of room to do more. Doing it all was not and is not the expectation. Trusting that loving matters even when it is so obviously not enough is the Good news that Jesus lived.
In terms of human history, it wasn’t that long ago that leeches were part of the cutting edge medical treatments of their day. A couple of hundred years later, those same medical treatments are not only obsolete but are viewed as harmful. I have no reason to think the medical people of another era wanted to do harm—but they often did. How will history judge our best intentioned help for other people? Our lives are too short to know how or if our best decisions are actually helpful. Being right is not what is expected. Struggling with discernment in the promise that God loves us is.
Jesus, as each of us, sometimes need to separate ourselves from the demands and expectations of this world. We need to pray. Each of us needs to be reminded that Jesus did not cure everyone. Jesus disappointed many. Those were not the criteria he lived by. Jesus lived the faith that every bit of kindness matters—even when he was rejected and killed. The rest is up to God. That is the way to life and that is what God wants for each of us.The good news that was more important than healing everyone in Capernaum is God loves us just the way we are—-mortal and sinful. We will all live unfinished lives. We will all make mistakes, some of them harmful.
Pray for discernment. Pray for forgiveness. Live like you’re loved. Let it be so.