Sermon Commentary for Sunday, February 4, 2024
Mark 1:29-39 Commentary
SO MUCH IS HAPPENING HERE! Welcome to the Gospel of Mark. Last week felt like it was quite the scene, but look what the rest of the day brought!
Jesus and the disciples leave the synagogue and go to Peter (still being called Simon) and Andrew’s house, where Jesus performs a private healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus does it quickly and simply, responding with the same authority that he did in the synagogue. But this time the work is accomplished not through his words, but by his touch. The matriarch arises from her fever-bed and marks her health and well-being for all to see by ministering to the household. I choose to see this as a return to her own sense of identity and purpose.
Remember, it’s still the Sabbath, so both the healing and the response to the healing would be frowned upon in most religious circles. The “right way” for healing to happen comes after the sun sets, marking the end of the Sabbath. It is then that the rest of the town, having heard of what happened at the synagogue earlier that day, have brought their own beloved (or themselves) for curing—both physical and spiritual. Mark uses words like “all” and “the whole city” and “many,” and puts the verb “brought” in the imperfect tense (making it a continuous action) to make his point. Things are public now; the need is great and keeps coming.
The disciples watch—we aren’t sure how else they are involved in the process—as Jesus spends the evening curing and casting out demons. Can you imagine?!? We aren’t sure how the night comes to an end, but we know it does because at some point, Jesus is able to sneak away to a place of solitude for prayer.
It’s a habit we see mentioned throughout the gospels. Jesus goes off to pray, to commune with the Father, and he comes away from it renewed and revived in his purposes and calling. I’m tempted to call these times of solitude, silence, and stillness Jesus’s sabbaths…
The disciples find him and tell him that a new wave of people have come for healing; he’s needed back in town. But Jesus says nothing about this need. Instead, he says it’s time for them to go to the other towns so that he can proclaim his message. What happened during his prayer time?
It’s not that Jesus realized he had wasted his time curing and casting out, but that these public acts were going to severely limit him from other aspects of his ministry. He tells the disciples as much when he says, “Let’s go so that I can proclaim the message to others, for that is what I came to do.” We have two further clues, one immediately in verse 39 and another in verse 45. In verse 39, we’re told that Jesus focused on teaching in the synagogues—a contained space—while also continuing his healing ministry. Verse 45 describes the consequences Jesus foresees during his prayer time when a leper Jesus heals tells other people about what has happened to him. The healed leper “went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.”
So it isn’t that Jesus is against healing, it’s that he has more he wants to offer and we humans tend to focus on what is right in front of us. God has more to offer us than physical healing. His words also proclaim to us changes and opportunities, invitations, and calls to repentance that will bring full shalom, wholeness. This is what Jesus Christ came to do in the incarnation. He does so in deed and word, but he also knows us well enough that we might get focused too much on the wonderful changes we can see that we miss out on the ones we cannot. And having taken on human nature, Jesus has real, physical limits that requires him to discern through prayer with the Spirit and Father, how to be present on this earth in our flesh. He has much to reveal to us, and if he does not guard this calling, our cries for healing will drown out the rest of his wondrous words.
Jesus will prove time and again that our curing and casting out is important to him. It is the mission he will send the disciples out on, the kind of things he will continue to give himself and his time to, and healing will become part of the marks of the church. But shall we listen to what else he has to give us?
Mark says that the disciples katadiōxen Jesus. Depending on your translation, it may have read in English as “hunted,” “look for,” “searched for,” or “pursued.” It’s the only time the verb is used in the New Testament, and it’s a pretty intense one. Imagine yourself as one of Jesus’s newfound disciples: they’ve just started their learning and they’ve already been caught up in so much—including countless sick and weary people and an all-night healing service. They wake up and instead of finding Jesus, they find more people looking for Jesus so that they too can be healed. The disciples have first-hand experience how great the physical and spiritual needs are, and they know they can’t do anything without Jesus.
Another translation choice that might be of interest to you relates to Peter’s mother-in-law. Once she is healed, she “began to serve them,” or diakoneō. It means to serve or minister to, and elsewhere in the Scriptures, it’s translated as the work of deacons. In the gospel of Mark, the verb is never used to describe the male disciples—only women, Jesus himself, or God’s angels.
Note: We have a special page dedicated to further sermon ideas and resources for the 2024 Year B Season of Lent and on into Easter. Visit this page here.]
Matthew Perry recently passed away, prompting many of his colleagues to share reflections and stories about him. Another lesser-known actor, Thomas Lennon, talked about the experience of writing a pilot for a comedy show with Perry, when they got a little stuck in the process. Lennon suggested they go out for a walk and Perry said, “Yeah, I can’t really do that.” Of course, he meant that a walk wouldn’t help clear his mind because he’d be immediately recognized and hounded by paparazzi and fans because of his success on the show FRIENDS. And given how many memorial tributes online were about the character Chandler Bing at Matthew Perry’s passing, it’s understandable.
I think that’s a bit like what Jesus realized during his prayer time that early morning: though healing was a good and holy pursuit, it had already begun to hem him in and limit his ability to move around publicly. That’s maybe why he went to preach in the synagogues in the neighbouring villages in Galilee, and when he did heal people and exorcise demons, he told them to not talk about it with others.
Sign Up for Our Newsletter!
Insights on preaching and sermon ideas, straight to your inbox. Delivered Weekly!