It’s the 5th Sunday of Epiphany. We’re staring Transfiguration in the eye and Lent is just over the Horizon. Our journey through Mark continues. We’re still on the first chapter! This is like the Jetson’s, “Jane, get me off the crazy chapter!” Here’s my take on this week’s readings for the 5th Sunday of Epiphany. There may be a typo here or there, for which I apologize, as always. (Check back , you may have noticed I tweak things up until pulpit time.) Richard’s Food For Thought is a perpetual work in progress. I’m grateful for those who check in, read along, and say hello. A special to thank you to the staff and editorial leadership at United Methodist Insight. And hey, if these help, which is all I’ve ever wanted to do, blessings. This month marks “Richard’s Food For Thought” ‘s 4th Anniversary. Thanks for coming on the journey. Be courageous, kind, and remember; you are loved.
This passage illustrates a larger point: the modern church isn’t anything like the movement the first followers of Jesus envisioned. I’m not certain how much of what we do would be recognizable to a first century Christian. I hope the words we say at Holy Communion might sound familiar. Certain prayers, such as readings from Philippians 2 and the Apostles’ Creed, link us to the early church. With those notable exceptions, two thousand years have changed what Jesus initiated and who we’ve become. This passage shows that gap. On the other hand, it also demonstrates how easy it is to return to the models, ideas, and ministry Jesus first presented.
This is an important passage. It’s worth listening and paying attention to. Some scripture inspires us or consoles us. This story reaches through the pages of the Bible convicts us because it’s saying: if you’re dealing with sickness, illness, doubt, being overwhelmed, and life is coming at you way too fast; here is how Jesus dealt with those situations. This is not anonymous Guidepost wisdom, a thought for the day calendar, or motivation from a well-known preacher. Mark offers insights from Jesus. Mark is saying, “I want to show you what Jesus did.” Then Mark asks, “Do you think you might emulate what you see here?” If Mark shows us a picture, actions, or tells us a story, might we do them in the same manner as Jesus did them? Could we do them without adding new rules, hoops to jump through, or what we deem to be improvements on Jesus’ methods? Can we be Christians, followers of Jesus, and the body of Christ, without all the baggage (religious or otherwise) that’s taken us off course?
If you hear there’s a good doctor in town, everyone is going to come out and be seen. This is especially true if you live in a rural place like Capernaum. All the people with physical and mental illnesses understood someone new was offering healing and cures. I wonder how fast the news traveled. This is pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter Capernaum. That being said, I’m willing to bet the word circulated quickly.
“There’s a guy over at Simon Peter’s mother-in-law’s house, some carpenter from Nazareth and he’s already healed her fever. Can you believe it?” It didn’t take long before everyone was in contact with their sick relatives and friends. “Come, let’s go see Jesus.” I’m sure that was the invitation. It wasn’t I hear they got a great pre-school, men’s group, UMW, social club, gardening society, or anything else. Programming doesn’t create community. Programming grows out of community. The first and most authentic invitations to interact with other Christians were and are: “Come, let’s go see Jesus.”
You know there had to be a line stretching out the door, around the corner, and around the block. Can you imagine the assumptions made by the people who didn’t know what was going on? The theories, the gossip, and the rumors they must have invented in their minds. Imagine their surprise when they walked up to someone just coming out of the house. “What’s going on here?” “What the meaning of this?”
The guy says, “I’ve been healed. I heard about this teacher and healer named Jesus. He’s from Nazareth. He’s staying here in this house with Simon Peter’s family. Apparently, he healed Simon’s mother-in-law and now she’s up, walking around, and making everyone food. The next thing you know, my neighbor knocked on my door and said, ‘you ought to come down to Simon’s house and see if this Jesus can heal you.’ He led me down here. I can walk for the first time in my life.”
The bystander was amazed. He’d never seen or heard anything like this. This had to be some kind of scam. The faith healer was probably a con-artist bilking these people out of money. He asked the man, “So how much did the healer charge you for the ability to walk?”
The man looked confused. It was if he didn’t fully understand the question. After a pause he said, “Jesus didn’t charge me or anyone else anything. Everything he does is free.”
“What do you mean free?” exclaimed the incredulous bystander. “What about your insurance, your co-pay, your deductible, Obama Care, the Affordable Care Act, the individual mandate, or out of pocket expenses? Jesus can’t offer free health care.”
And yet he did. Medical care to the physically and mentally ill was a huge portion of Jesus’ earthly ministry. If he wasn’t preaching, Jesus was healing. He never charged a shekel to cure anyone from an illness. I can hear you now. “Well, Richard, those times were different.” And I’ll say, “Sisters and brothers in Christ; were people any less sick and needy?” The human condition is what links us over time. There may not have been HMO’s, insurance companies, the Affordable Care Act, individual mandates, an idea called single payer health care, or medical care as we know it; but Jesus recognized the value of physical and spiritual well being. It’s what he did everyday of his life. The people who follow Christ have a responsibility to continue Jesus’ work of helping the most vulnerable and asking nothing in return. This is how the Kingdom is built.
God’s emphasis on physical and spiritual wholeness is evident from the first pages of the Old Testament. Jesus is continuing something that God started in Genesis. This is who we are to be. God charges no premiums, deductibles, or out of pocket expense for our welfare. Even before the events at Easter, Jesus is here to say: you’re covered.
The second half the passage undergirds, in a powerful way, the meaning of the first. First we’re told, God’s kingdom is coming in the here and now and God’s people will be restored, made whole and healed in the here and now, not in some far off heavenly reality. On a street corner in Capernaum, in the front room of Peter’s mother-in-law’s house, Heaven has arrived.
We’re told something new. Spiritual health is integral to the Kingdom of God. Again, Mark is painting a picture of how Jesus operates and asking, “Can you do this, just this?” “Can you emulate Jesus at this basic level?”
We’ve seen how Jesus keeps a pretty busy schedule. Imagine seeing sick and mentally ill patients all day and night, for hours on end. At some point, even Jesus needs a break, time to reconnect with God. From the beginning of his ministry to his last day on Earth, Jesus demonstrates a need for quiet time and being alone with God. In other words, Jesus has an active prayer life. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. Mark is not telling us this story because it paints an inspirational picture; like those of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. We’re not supposed to step back from this reading of this Sunday and say, “look how holy Jesus was, isn’t he special, I bet his mother was so proud of him.” That’s not what this is about. This is a message. Jesus is role-modeling how to be a follower of God in a busy and overwhelming world like his and ours. Disciples of Jesus, we need to learn, do the things he does: helping, healing, and praying. It’s not a pick and choose sort of and existence.
We can be who Jesus intended us to be. There is no trick, equation to master, or seminar to attend. The challenge is to do what Jesus does; not to extrapolate what he might do. If we read Mark and the other gospels, listen to what Jesus says, observe his words and actions, and emulate those in our own life; the divergence between where we’ve ended up and where we started will narrow quickly. Remember what he told his disciples in the last meal they shared together before his death: gather, talk, share, and do these things in remembrance of me. It doesn’t get any plainer than that.