A reflection on Mark 1:29-39 for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany, February 7, 2021
As soon as they left the synagogue, they 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 sunset, 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 neighbouring 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 (NRSVA)
Jesus – echoing the God Isaiah describes – is at work revealing the authority of the ‘Kingdom of God’.
The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law is the first miraculous healing in the gospel of Mark. It tells us something new about Jesus authority: that it extends into the physical realm. Jesus has already taught and cast out a demon. Now he has overcome sickness.
All these are under Jesus’ authority.
Jesus does well to cure his hostess in relative secrecy. In this culture a day was measured from sunset to sunset. Until the sun is gone the sabbath laws are in place.
Healing before then risked the ire of the Pharisees.
And it seems that the whole town knows it. I imagine the crowds following at a distance, establishing where the teacher is staying, and then going to get all their sick and possessed ready.
And as soon as the sun is gone they are knocking at the door. The ‘whole city’ gathered to see more of the authority that so amazed them.
They didn’t let Jesus go so easily after casting out the demon in their synagogue. They were just biding time.
And so again his ‘authority’ is on display: curing diseases; casting out demons; refusing to let the unclean spirits speak.
And even though this takes place on the first day of the new week, the reader knows that Jesus authority also extends to the sabbath. An authoritative teacher speaking into the realm of the spiritual, the physical, even the legal.
An ever-expanding authority. A ever-expanding work.
And perhaps the next scene tells us something of this authority’s source. Jesus is found alone in prayer.
This one is clearly dependant upon God.
So much so that, even though all Capernaum searches for him, Jesus obediently insists that there is a bigger call. His message cannot remain here.
It must spread, at this stage, ‘throughout Galilee’. Even now it is hard to imagine that Israel’s forgotten northern region could possibly hold a secret like this for long.
The wonderful message of Jesus’ authority – and work – is out!
In this passage, part of Jesus’ work is done in secret and part in public. When have you found God’s work to be most obvious? When have you found it most subtle?
What, for Jesus, is the relationship between ‘work’ and ‘prayer’? How does this connection play out in your life?