Mark 1: 29-39 (paraphrased)
After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James and John went home with Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.
That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick with all kinds of diseases and disorders. The whole town gathered near the door to watch as he healed all of these people.
Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, they said, “Everyone’s looking for you!”
Jesus replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.” He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues, healing the sick, and bringing wholeness into the lives of many.
Today’s Message: Source of Strength
There are all kinds of patterns in this world. The first thing we probably think of fabric, right? There are an endless number of patterns from plaids to stripes to solids to ones with little bears and pine trees on them. But there are other types of patterns as well. Mathematical patterns for one. There are patterns in writing, especially in poetry; there are patterns in science; patterns of logic. How about the patterns of nature, ecosystems, the circular pattern of the ever-changing seasons, and the constant and on-going patterns of evolution. I can go on and on, but you get the point. Patterns exist everywhere.
But what about the Bible? Are there discernable patterns there?
Well, as I began to look theses four brief passages that we have before us today, a pattern began to emerge. First, Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, next he cures many illness for those gathered around him, he then takes a moment to rest, before moving on to widen the scope his mission. And here’s the really interesting part. This fourfold pattern seems to reflect the nature of his message. Time and again, we Jesus go first to the inner circle, second to the gathered crowds, he then finds a brief time to rest, and finally, he turns outward, taking his message to all people.
Now, as I say this, there are two lingering questions in my mind. First, why this outward-moving pattern? And second, why does Mark, a writer who never wastes a word on anything; why does he emphasize the need for Jesus to sneak away to find some “alone” time?
Well, let’s taking-on that latter question first because there’s a pretty simple answer here. Jesus was fully human. He, like all of us, needed to get away and recharge his batteries once in a while. And while we may have a variety of understandings about the divinity of Jesus (ranging from fully God, to possessing the energy of the divine, to having a unique relationship with God) it’s pretty safe to say that, historically, we know that a man existed, whose charisma and radical message drew large crowds. And it was because of this message and the size of his following that he became a threat to the powers that be, leading of course, to his execution by the Romans. We know all this from independent historians of that era.
Theologian E. Elisabeth Johnson adds, however, that the “…restoration of human wholeness is not for Mark a demonstration of Jesus’ personal power or his unique identity so much as it is a disclosure of God’s invasion of the creation. So, Jesus prays to the God who is at work in him.”[i]
In other words, there must be some type of separation or uniqueness between the divine part of Jesus, the incarnational aspect of God in Jesus (the “invasion of the creation” part) and Jesus’ humanity. And, here, in the very first chapter of Mark’s Gospel we see this human side of Jesus being fully lived-out, even as he began to teach about that nature of God. I mean, so far, we’ve seen him baptized in a river, tested in the wilderness, and we’ve seen him proclaim that “the Reign of God has come near” in him.
And specifically in today’s text, we see Jesus heal a woman, Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, in the privacy of her own home; we see him heal many people in a very public arena; and then, as I said before, after recharging his batteries, we see Jesus take his message to the masses. The threefold pattern emerges.
But let’s set the pattern aside for a moment and dig into this “in-between time” …this early-morning need for solitude that Mark highlights here. I think this is important for us to consider because this is where we’re invited enter the narrative. Jesus got up early, before dawn the text says, to find a quiet place so he could spend some time in prayer. For a little while anyway, in the cool, quiet of the pre-dawn, the pace of his life slowed down a bit. That’s our challenge as well. Our challenge is to find a corner of solitude, a sacred space, where we too can find the time and the peace to be in the presence of God. A time of day when we might squirrel away in a soft chair and lose ourselves in prayer. We, like Jesus all those years ago, must seek those sacred moments when the pace of life slows down a bit. This is a vital aspect of our faith.
But, as we all know, a personal experience of the divine is just the beginning and not the sum total of our faith. So, turning back to Mark’s threefold pattern, we too, with recharged batteries, are called to share the love of God with our inner circle, with the gathered community, and to all the ends of the earth. This is what I call “the natural progression of faith.” The natural progression of faith begins with an “inner discovery of the divine” and then expands outward into an “on-going expression of our faith” through education, relationships, and service to others.
Do you see where Mark is taking us here? This threefold pattern is the heart of discipleship. This “from the inside/out” way of being faithful in the world is the blueprint for our commitment to love God by loving our neighbor as ourselves. I mean, beginning on the inside, we love ourselves by taking care of ourselves; physically, mentally, and spiritually. We’re continually in the process of becoming more than we already are; we should always in the process of attempting to develop healthy habits and relationships because in the end, our movement toward wholeness will lead others toward wholeness. Our progression toward become Light, will lead others into the Light. Others in our inner circle, (family, friends, our church family) and those beyond the walls of our community, out there, to all the ends of the earth.
One final thought today. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” This is such a profound statement as we attempt to apply the wisdom of Mark’s pattern to our own journey. Because what lies within us, all of us, all of humanity and all of the natural world, is what Whitehead called “the spark of the divine.” In other words, there is a bit of God within each of you; God’s goodness, God’s grace, God’s calling to turn your gaze outward by sharing the compassion and the forgiveness that was demonstrated in the life and teachings of Jesus. Yes, it’s a process. It’s a process that’s on-going. But it’s a process that’s necessary as we continue to work toward the day when justice is the norm and peace a constant.
This is my on-going hope and never-ending prayer. May it be so. Amen.
[i] Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elisabeth Johnson eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press) 2014