Rest up

Bible Text: Mark 1:29-39 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

This past week has been rainy and grey. Thankfully not too cold but I feel as though a bit of cabin fever is setting in. I haven’t spent enough hours outside this week. I’m looking forward to warmer weather and sunnier – longer days. I’ve got an itch to get back out there. As many of you know last year almost every Sunday night from Mid-march to late October Mike and I enjoyed a night of camping in our rustically converted mini-van. I say rustic because it is really just a foamy laid out in the back of the van. I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea but for me the smell of the outdoors, the crackle of the camp fire, the early morning song birds, and a hike around a forested area, well, that is next to heavenly, even when we have to put on extra layers or eat from a can or toss and turn just to get comfortable. Be it Kitty Coleman, Miracle Beach, or Qualicum Falls or any number of campgrounds around town. It is my sabbath moment. That one night is enough for me to catch my breath and reflect on the week gone by while also preparing for the week ahead. That is not too say that I am tired and certainly I’m not exhausted after a Sunday service or a week with you folk but it is nice to just take a time a part to restore and commune with the great outdoors that God has created. Sometimes just a walk through the North East Woods is good enough for me. I am relieved to discover that I’m no the only one who needs this little rest time. Although it is not the main theme for this week’s gospel passage, the one verse, “In the morning while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place and there he prayed” caught my attention. That was Jesus’ sabbath moment, a time to catch his breath between two stories, a time when Jesus was able to be healed rather than be the healer. We all need little moments like that.
This Gospel passage is a continuation of our story from last week. As soon as Jesus rids the man of the unclean spirit in the Synagogue he comes to the house of Simon and Andrew where Simon’s mother-in-law is suffering from fever. As I mentioned in the introduction our stories are linked not only because they occur on the same day but because they are healing stories. Mark continues to portray Jesus as one who has ultimate power and authority. It is also symbolic of God’s desire for health and wholeness. Simon’s mother in law as well as those later on in the passage are all restored by Jesus and the line between healing and exorcism is very fine. As I mentioned often symptoms of a fever were believed to be related to possession by an unclean spirit. This is in part because ancient medicine generally assumed that illness, of many different kinds, was the result of some form of demonic possession or oppression. If you have ever suffered from a fever or a cold, especially the ones going around this season, you know that is often how you feel. It’s as if a beast takes over. There’s a fog that descends, if you’re stuffed up you will often have a deeper voice, and well, you can get a little loopy. I know, that’s exactly how I felt for a few days last week! So it is not beyond us to understand fevers in this manner.
But despite these similarities between the man in the synagogue and Simon’s mother-in-law, there are two very important distinctions. The healing in the synagogue was very public, people were amazed and commented on Jesus’ authority. The second portion of our reading this morning seems to have a similar effect. But first in this morning’s passage we have Jesus providing healing in a private home with only a few of his close friends watching and witnessing. Also, the healing in the synagogue involved a man, now Jesus is healing a woman. If we put the two stories together they provide us with quite a range to Jesus’ healing. They are different settings, involving different people, suffering from different symptoms. The implication is that Jesus’ ministry, healing ministry as well as ministry of deliverance and preaching has widespread influence and has the potential to benefit all kinds of people. In every realm, in each space, Jesus brings the presence of God’s restorative power to light. This wide scope continues as we hear that, that very evening Jesus continues to provide healing to both the sick and the possessed. The following day Jesus is up at it again, only this time he is travelling throughout the region healing and preaching. No wonder Jesus needed a sabbath moment, a moment a part, a moment of rest and restoration, a moment to pray.
I suppose that’s why a different phrase from this passage irks me. I know I need time to refuel, clearly Jesus needed a break every now and then, so why is it that as soon as Simon’s mother-in-law is cured she immediately begins to serve the disciples? Of course there are gender biases going on and there are cultural expectations of the hostess so I’m not about to debate any of that. What intrigues me is that Mark felt it was important enough to include it in his telling of this story.
The term to serve translates as diakoneo in Greek and is often used within the context of food service, so it could mean that Simon’s Mother-in-law “waited on” them. But Mark, throughout his Gospel, tends to use this term in a slightly different manner. He uses it to mean “to minister” to them. Mark often restricts use of this verb. In fact one of the next times that Mark uses it is within the context of Jesus, that Jesus declares that he came to minister. In Mark 10: 45 Jesus says, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” and he uses the same Greek verb. This woman actually ends up being Christ-like in her healing. So, perhaps Mark wanted to demonstrate that those who are healed by Jesus are then able to be Jesus to others. Some commentators say that to serve is to be totally vulnerable and to be totally vulnerable is to be open to God. So what Mark may be telling us is that those who are truly vulnerable are capable of true service or ministry because they are freed by their lack of power. But I don’t feel like that’s a fair assessment.
Do you know what I think? This tells the story of Jesus’ true healing, of truly lifting up burdens and taking our yoke, of truly revitalizing a weary world, of truly being able to soar as an eagle. It demonstrates the vastness of Jesus’ ministry and power. Jesus’ mission stretches from the ordinary, like everyday realities of common household tasks to the extra-ordinary realm of healing and defeating darkness and demon possession. The woman was healed at once- not just from her fever but from all that weighed her down. She was given new energy and enthusiasm, strength and a sense of service. Not only was this such a great miracle that she did not need to time recuperate but that she was ready to minister with her gifts. That is true healing.
Through this story, Mark proclaims the power of Jesus to restore life and to relieve those who have been suffering from dis-ease. In the public and private realms, the sacred spaces like the synagogue, to the ordinary places like a home, to the very public crowds throughout the countryside. Jesus is bringing not only life-saving power but also new uplifting energy. There are times when we are tired, times when we need to refuel, times when we need to seek out quiet calm moments. In our vulnerability we can also seek that new energy which Jesus provides. We can be lifted from our fatigue and invigorated with the Spirit among us. Amen