A homily on Mark 1:29-45 (ESV):
And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed 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.
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him,“Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go,show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
Today’s Gospel lesson consists of at least three distinct episodes.
- In Mark 1:29-34, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law before a night-long, town-wide round of healings and exorcisms.
- Then, in Mark 1:35-39, Jesus absconds to a desolate place in the early morning hours to pray. When Peter and the others find him, he reaffirms the preaching focus of his ministry, before taking the disciples along with him as he proclaims the kingdom in Galilee, and demonstrates the kingdom by casting out demons.
- Finally, in Mark 1:40-45, a leper courageously and somewhat scandalously approaches Jesus, asking to be made clean. Jesus, moved with compassion, grants his request, makes him clean, charges him with silence, and – partially because the request for silence went unheeded – is forced to remain in desolate places to avoid the growing attention his ministry is receiving.
Now, what to make of these things? As ministers within the Church, as followers of Jesus, I think we naturally (and rightly) tend to place ourselves in the place of Christ’s disciples when we work our way through Gospel texts.
However, with today’s episodes, I’d like us to consider what we can learn about our vocations from Peter’s mother-in-law, from Jesus himself, and from the leper. These, I believe, demonstrate the importance of service, prayer, proclamation, and worship
First, as with several of Jesus’ miraculous healings, Peter’s mother-in-law is raised from her bed as a foreshadowing of Christ’s resurrection. And although the use of the verb diakoneo to mean “to serve, to wait upon,” is perfectly within the term’s semantic range, we should not fail to notice that the woman provides an apt example of the Christian life: just as she was raised from her bed and began to serve Christ and the disciples, we are raised from our sickness of Sin and Death for a purpose, unto a life of service within Christ’s Church.
Secondly, after an eventful night of healings and casting out demons, Jesus demonstrates for us the sustaining importance of prayer, even and especially in the lives of ministry big shots, by retreating to a deserted place in the early morning hours to pray to the Father. This lifestyle of prayer is what sustains his healing ministry, and also, thirdly, it sustains his preaching ministry.
Jesus does not lose focus in the midst of growing crowds. He takes time to be alone, to pray – and he relentlessly proclaims the coming Kingdom of God to the people. May we strike the same balance as our Lord in our ministries today.
Service. Prayer. Proclamation. And finally, Worship.
Notice the leper, condemned to a life of painful illness and perhaps even more painful social exclusion. Taking the risk that Jesus might recoil in horror at his presence, like countless others would have, the leper boldly asks, notice, not primarily for physical healing, but for restoration to the worshiping community!
We must keep the biblical, and not the clinical, meaning of “clean” in mind here: acceptable and ready to worship the living God! Jesus reverses the normal contagion movement, transferring his cleanliness to the unclean man, restoring the leper to a life of worship. A beautiful exchange, one which Christ is still willing to make with us today! However, are we as eager as the leper to be healed in order to worship God? To serve God? To pray to God? To proclaim God’s Kingdom?
Let us not make healing a self-centered occurrence. Christ offers us healing and restoration for this fourfold purpose: service, prayer, proclamation, and worship.