Jesus left the synagogue at Capernaum, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
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. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. Mark 1:29-39.
In the Lectionary reading today, Jesus leaves the synagogue at Capernaum and travels to the home of Peter’s mother-in-law. She has taken to her bed with a fever, which often presented a life-threatening condition in those days. Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up. That phrase, “lifted her up” resonates with meaning, calling to mind Jesus being lifted up on the cross and lifted up from the grave. Jesus restores her to health, and restores her to her community.
We see a pattern begin to emerge in Jesus’ ministry. The holiness and purity laws of the day would have required that one separate oneself from those who were ill, especially those who were spiritually diseased or who suffered from a moral infection. Rather than shunning them, Jesus rushed to them. At the time, this offered a new teaching, something really extraordinary.
That evening, word of Jesus’ healing ministry begins to spread and the house is surrounded by those who need Jesus’ healing touch. Having had some involvement in the work of pastoral care, this passage from the Gospel rings remarkably true. Pastoral care is the church’s growth industry in a world that groans in pain and cries out for God’s presence.
Jesus then engages in a practice we’ve seen before, and we’ll see again and again. Having preached, having healed, he retreats “to a deserted place” and prayed. Jesus knew what we so often ignore: even the work of ministry can become empty and debilitating unless we allow the Father to refresh and renew us in prayer. Or perhaps Jesus knew what many of us so often forget: when we’ve come into direct contact with the overwhelming power of God to touch people’s lives, sometimes a bit of silent reflection offers the best and perhaps the only authentic response.
Peter and the disciples then encourage Jesus to return to Capernaum, where everyone is looking for him. The disciples make the same mistake many of us do when we’ve encountered God doing something wonderful. They suggest, “Do it again!” As C.S. Lewis noted, we are swimming upstream spiritually when we tell God “Encore!” In Letters to Malcolm, Lewis observed : “It is no good angling for the rich moments. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard.” Our fixation with that last event, that former experience, or that past feeling may well divert our attention from the new wonders God is already working.
Jesus tells the disciples that they need to go into “the neighboring towns”, which would have meant leaving the city of Capernaum and going into the countryside. Here, we again see Jesus engage in a practice that will form a routine for Him: (1) engage in ministry (proclaiming the Good News and healing the brokenhearted); (2) retreat and refresh in prayer; (3) expand the ministry to another place and people; and (4) repeat. Those who follow Christ should seriously consider the wisdom of this regime. It’s what we came here to do, too.
I wish you a good and holy Sabbath,
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis
Very nice Br. James. I am reminded in this text that the gospel message comes out of the deserted place much as creation came out of nothing.
I’m reminded of a wonderful line from my favorite poet about “the nothing that is there, and the nothing that is not.”
Pax et bonum,
Dear Brother James,
As usual there are many insights in this post, but I’ll comment on just one of them. I loved your description of silent reflection as “the best and perhaps the only authentic response” to “the overwhelming power of God to touch people’s lives.” This is a wonderful remark because it’s not only something we’ve experienced repeatedly (that all we can do is sigh at such moments as we search in vain for words) but it also focuses our attention on the true meaning of the experience (that it’s not about us; that it is God touching people’s lives, and we’re just privileged to be God’s instruments at such moments).
And I’ll give in to the temptation to comment on one other point you made — about Christ expanding his ministry. I greatly appreciate the fact that you have allowed God to do that through you, because I, here in Michigan, would never have crossed paths with you if you hadn’t. And God does consistently touch my life through your words.
As always, you’re too kind. Thank you for your support.
I think I wrote about silence being the only authentic response because my first temptation is to blather, often when silence offers much greater depth and honesty. And, of course, you’re right. We are nothing more than witnesses, privileged to watch the Almighty do his work.
I’m grateful our ministries have crossed paths, and look forward to many more intersections with you.
Have a wonderful Sabbath,
My brother, the last two paragraphs were golden. I know they contain abundant discussion material but right now, your sister is quiet.
As we both know, there’s some value in quiet.
Reblogged this on Resting in His Grace and commented:
Did Jesus have a game plan during His earthly ministry? Was His strategy methodical? Brother James unveils a point of interest that will be beneficial to all who carry the gospel. Marvelous message!
Dear Sweat Family,
I cannot thank you enough for the encouragement and support. Have a wonderful Sabbath,
Another blessed and inciteful post, Br. James. I am always interested to see what in particular speaks to your audience, based on what they choose to write about. I always wonder if what has “jumped out” at us most is not something we should be paying attention to in our own lives, or somewhere that God is sending us to be His disciples. Today, the comment of silent reflection being perhaps the only true and authentic response to the recognition of God’s action in people’s lives spoke loudly to me today. And I do recognize my need to be able to sit back and breathe in that beauty. Thank you for being someone and somewhere I am encouraged to do just that. God’s richest blessings to you today and always.
I’m glad you found something useful within the piece. There is a great gift within silence, sitting back and taking in the holy that surrounds us.
Excellent, this is a well thought out teaching. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you so much. I’m glad the piece spoke to you.
Have a wonder-filled Sabbath,
Thank you brother James. I shall take this to my “closet” as I refresh from a day of ministry. JE
I’m so glad you liked it. I’m looking forward to some time apart, too, but first, I’m off to see my godson in a play.
Great message…so many wonderful messages. Loved “Rather than shunning them, Jesus rushed to them.”
Thanks for your thoughtful and meaningful blog.
Thank you, as always, for your kindness and support. You are a great gift.
I spent much time last week reflecting on this text as well. For me, the light of Christ shines especially brightly in those few moments when Jesus comes to Simon’s mother-in-law, “takes her hand, raises her up gently but with power.” I think about how often–if I’m intentional enough to really look at what’s going on–I see us humans giving someone who needs it a tender boost, a touch of healing and hope. Reflection on a biblical text is important, but I guess what I’m reminding myself is that reflecting on the human text in front of us each day is also enlightening.
Blessings on your illuminations, James.
My dear Lera,
Yes, there’s something extraordinarily powerful in Jesus’ healing touch, and in our extending our hands to those in trouble, too. I love that notion of “the human text.” It’s a deeply moving phrase.
With many thanks,