For Year B, on the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel text is Mark 1:29-39. It is more “a day in the life of Jesus” than on one of those texts that makes a single, unified point.
A Day in the Life of Jesus
That is to say, it is an amazing series of moments, any one of which is food for the soul, whether you are meditating on your own or preparing a sermon.
It starts one afternoon, and continues the following morning — about 24 hours, give or take. We’re still in chapter 1, so Mark’s Gospel is just getting rolling. But by the time our text picks up the story, Jesus has been baptized, has been tempted, has gathered his first disciples, has taught in a synagogue, and has cast out a demon.
After a morning of ministry, Jesus and friends headed to “the house of Simon and Andrew,” a destination I’d never really thought about before today. This was, it seems, the home of an extended family.
When they got there “Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever.” Which, the alert reader will notice, means that somewhere in that house Simon had a wife. Which, in turn, will prompt the alert reader to conclude that Simon (aka the Apostle Peter), the first Bishop of Rome (aka “Pope”) was married.
That’s not really much of a preachable observation, but it is interesting to me as a historian. In the year 325 the Council of Nicaea will make it a stated policy that bishops cannot be married. This remains the policy of the Orthodox East and the Catholic West to this day, with the Catholic side expanding the requirement of celibacy to all of its priests as well.
So it becomes an example of the Church’s canons, or laws, going beyond what was clearly the lived practice of the apostolic era. For some that’s a scandal. But for others that’s the Holy Spirit guiding the Church in wisdom. For me? It’s just kind of interesting.
She Began to Serve Them
Well the first thing Jesus did when he heard that Peter’s wife’s mom was sick was he went and healed her. Well done. That’s his first healing miracle in Mark’s Gospel.
More interesting to me is Mark’s testimony to what happened next:
Then the fever left her,
and she began to serve them.
Mark 1:31 NRSV
I suppose you could take that as evidence of a patriarchal culture where women were expected to serve the men.
I prefer to take it as evidence that when Christ heals someone, the healing goes deeper than curing a superficial fever. Jesus is intent on bringing us around to the life we are intended to live — a life where the greatest are the servants of all.
Like Jesus, you know?
The Whole City Was Gathered
One of the things I have long found fascinating in Mark is his portrayal of Jesus’ popularity. He spends a great deal of time being swarmed by people who want him to heal them or help them in some other way.
We get the first example of that in this text.
Jesus has preached precisely one sermon, cast out precisely one demon, and healed precisely one mother-in-law. But the word got out and man, did people want to get some of that for themselves.
That evening, at sundown,
they brought to him all who were sick
or possessed with demons.
And the whole city
was gathered around the door.
Mark 1:32-33 NRSV
It’s quietly comical, I think. They bring him absolutely everyone in town who is sick or demon possessed.
And by the time they reach the end of that list they bring precisely… every single person in town.
Maybe that’s just Gospel honesty: if everyone who needs healing or spiritual restoration were to come to church this Sunday, the place would be bursting at the seams. Every person in every town fits that description.
Now pay careful attention to how this first public example of Jesus’ healing ministry unfolds:
And he cured
who were sick with various diseases,
and cast out
Mark 1:34 NRSV
Not “all.” Just “many.”
Okay, you and I and any nurse or physician would be pleased as punch if we could spend the day walking the COVID ward of the local hospital and curing “many.”
Hey, it would be nice if we could cure “any.”
But with Jesus we expect him to heal everybody.
If you look you’ll find other passages where Jesus heals “all.” But not here. It’s a day in the life of Jesus, and some days apparently are better than others.
So don’t expect Jesus to solve every single problem for you and your congregation. He didn’t always do it when he was walking around in the flesh either.
Everyone Is Looking for You
When he’d finished that long evening’s work, Jesus went to bed. But he got up early. Why?
Well to pray, of course. That’s the pious observation. I’ve mentioned it many times in sermons and in writing.
But also to escape.
Maybe the two go together.
It’s easy for people in ministry to feel rather trapped by the demands of others. I’ve certainly heard pastors say during this pandemic that they’ve had to work harder than they ever have before. And I hear tell that many are finding it hard to do the obviously healthy things, like taking a day for sabbath rest.
Well, my friend, Jesus had a lot of demands. An entire town showed up in the front yard of his Airbnb. Every single person among them wanted to be healed. He knew he needed a break.
So off he went, without telling anyone where he was going. He had to go out and grab that time of prayer to restore his own sanity and equilibrium.
Make a day in the life of Jesus the role model for a day in your own life. Daily prayer, my friend, and weekly sabbath rest.
And of course he was right. His disciples put out an APB, and when they found him they told him
Everyone is searching for you.
All those people, the entire town, who came to his doorstep the night before? They were back. Every one of them.
Good thing he got away — instead of thinking he should always be there for every person to meet their every need and expectation.
(I tremble when I hear pastors say boastfully that they are “on call 24/7.” Jesus didn’t do it. It’s not the path to health or success.)
Let Us Go
When the disciples found him to bring him back to do some more healing, what did he say?
Let us go on to the neighboring towns…
Mark 1:38 NRSV
Jesus actually had no intention of sticking around Capernaum to live at the beck and call of every needy person in town. Time to get the heck out of Dodge.
Take note of why he left this town where they wanted him so desperately:
…so that I may proclaim the message there also;
for that is what I came out to do.
Mark 1:39 NRSV
Going to one town and staying there was not his mission.
Traveling far and wide was his mission, teaching about the kingdom and then healing people as an example of the kingdom’s work.
Jesus went away to serve other communities because, as he said, “that is what I came out to do.”
Of course that doesn’t mean we are all called to leave the places we are wanted and needed. Some of the best pastors and some of the healthiest ministries, are long term in one community.
But whether we need to stay, or whether we need to go, we need to practice the same kind of discernment Jesus did here.
During a day in the life of Jesus, how did he decide what to do?
He did what fit his mission.
That is what I came out to do.
What did you come to do?
What’s your mission?
Need any course adjustments to get back to it?
This year Mark is the main Gospel in the Revised Common Lectionary. Want a great way to creatively engage with each Sunday’s text? Want something to keep your kids on-topic during the sermon on Sunday? Try my Illuminate-You-Own Gospel of Mark. Each story is on a page of its own, with a blank facing page for doodles, prayers, sermon notes, or journal entries. Click the image below to check it out on Amazon. (It’s an affiliate link.)