Home Sermons Sunday 7th February
February 7th, 2021
Like many other preachers, I guess, I looked at this morning’s
reading from Mark and tried to think of something else to preach
from. It is a comparatively short reading containing 3 distinct
episodes – a miracle story, a summary of Jesus’ healing activity, and
a mild conflict between Simon and Jesus about what Jesus should
be doing next. Not exactly rich pickings at first glance.
But for some reason Mark has tightly connected these stories. The
first, the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, takes place on the
Sabbath, probably in the afternoon. It is a private event, witnessed
by a small group and is a very tersely told story. It includes all the
usual features of a miracle healing – the description of the illness,
the healing itself and the demonstration of the healing. This last
feature takes place when the woman “began to serve them” proving
that she was sufficiently recovered to resume her daily routine.
Some writers have attempted to read symbolic importance into the
service offered by Simon’s mother-in-law to Jesus and the disciples
after her healing. Such service is a mark of her discipleship to Jesus
who calls those who follow him “not to be served but to serve.”
However, in the context of the surrounding episodes I believe this is
stretching the purpose of the story. the good news is that Jesus
attends immediately to her illness and his healing touch is enough to
restore her full health as shown by her preparation of a meal for
Jesus, Simon and their friends.
The second event takes place the same evening but in contrast to
the first in is a public event. The healing powers of Jesus have
become public knowledge and people bring to Jesus “all who were
sick or possessed with demons” and the “whole city” gathers in the
doorway. Like all the gospel writers Mark exaggerates to enhance
his stories, but we can assume that it was a large crowd and that
Jesus has now become a public figure. His real identity, as Son of
God, remains hidden because the demons, who presumably know
who he is, are forbidden to speak. The people are looking for Jesus
because of his power to heal, but are not yet recognising his
teaching nor his real identity.
The third episode, the conflict between Jesus and Simon, takes
place the next morning and refers back to the previous evening. It
confirms that the people including Simon and the other disciples do
not really understand who Jesus is. Jesus seeks a deserted place
for prayer and is “hunted” by them with the demand that he returns.
“Everyone is searching for you.” But Jesus rejects this demand and
does not return to Capernaum. Instead he moves on towards other
towns in Galilee to continue his task of proclamation.
I wonder why Jesus rejects the request for more miracles particularly
from those who are closest to him? I thought of two possible
reasons. Firstly what Jesus rejects seems to be a response to
himself that focuses exclusively on the miracles. While the miracles
show his power and force questions about his identity, they do not
reveal who he really is. This theme becomes stronger later in the
Gospels, but even in these very early stories it is apparent.
Secondly Jesus appears to reject the request because he believes
his calling is elsewhere. When we read again this first chapter of
Mark we see that Jesus came to preach the gospel and to challenge
the power of Satan. However good and pleasant and popular it may
have been for him to heal large numbers of people, he understands
that this is not his real calling. While the miracles do not conflict with
this calling, but the lack of real understanding by the people is a
conflict for Jesus.
So what is this little series of stories all about? I believe it is the
beginning of exploring who Jesus really is. We know he is a healer
– a remarkable healer – and also an exorcist with his ability to cast
out demons. But he is so much more than this. His primary task is
to proclaim the kingdom of God and in this reading he sets aside his
healing abilities for what in his mind is a much greater need of the
people, to hear the gospel. It would have been easy for him to stay
in Capernaum as a popular and competent healer, but to do so
would have been to reject his true calling. Instead he chose to leave
the area and go to other towns in Galilee to do his preaching and
Paul writing to the Corinthians gives us some very good insights
about how we too can share the gospel. He focuses on meeting
people where they are. He wrote:
“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those
under the law I became like one under the law, so as to win
those under the law.
To those not having the law I became like one not having the
law so as to win those not having the law.
To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become
all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save
I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its
I have often been asked how I can put forward a message of hope
when I take a funeral for those who do not want any religion in the
service. It is difficult because the most important thing about a
funeral is to try to meet the needs of the immediate family. Like
Paul, it is important to try and be in the place where those people
are; to use language and images that they will understand and not to
impose my beliefs on them. However, I find there is always
something of my faith in every service I take. One example was in
funeral service for my cousin who was an atheist, a member of the
Chinese Communist Party and whose wife is a non-religious Jew, I
was very aware that it was not to be a Christian service. However,
the family wanted to sing Jerusalem, because it was the hymn of the
Industrial Revolution, and John’s favourite piece of music which was
played as we carried him from the chapel, was the Seekers singing
“Turn, turn, turn” – a direct quote from Ecclesiastes 3. So while it
was in every sense a secular funeral – the Christian influence was
there in a way that those of the faith understood and those who were
not were not offended.
In my previous parish there was a woman who came to me for
Spiritual Direction. She was not a Christian – she worshipped the
Divine Mother and her faith had elements of eastern religion as well.
However, we always began our session by invoking the Divine – in
her case Divine Mother and for me God – and I found that when I
reframed some of what she talked about in Christian terms she
accepted it. She didn’t try to convert me and I didn’t try to convert
her. I learned so much from Elwin and I believe she began to regard
Christians a little more favourably than she had in the past!
There is nothing more off-putting than someone who Bible bashes.
It puts the other person at a distinct disadvantage if they don’t have
a particularly good Bible knowledge especially if the person starts
quoting chapter and verse out of context. If we are to truly share the
gospel we have to get alongside people and not talk church jargon!
And that is exactly how both Jesus and Paul worked with people.
We can rely totally on Jesus in our life journeys.
He is there for us as companion, teacher, healer, but on his terms
not on ours. Our task is to find our mission and ministry in the
places where we are. How we live and work out that mission and
ministry will be unique to each of us as it was unique to Jesus, and it
may often be misunderstood. What is important is that we are the
people we are intended to be; that we live out our individual calling
to follow Jesus in the way that is appropriate for us individually and
as we do we can continue to ponder the question who is this Jesus?