It’s Super Bowl Sunday. Like millions of people around our country, I will plop my butt in front of the TV to pray. As a lifelong Tampa Bay Bucs fan, I’m excited to see history in the making. In its 55 year history, the Bucs are the first team to play a Super Bowl at their own stadium. And Tom Brady will be the oldest Quarterback to play in a championship game. Of course, the Coronavirus has limited the number of people in the stands. So I’ll be at home in my empty stadium, playing the position of an old armchair quarterback vying for yet another championship ring.
But before the game kicks off, there is work to be done and not a second to spare.
Thankfully we are back in the gospel of Mark again, a book that does not waste any time to move the flags towards the goal line. The clock is ticking and Jesus moves quickly as we pick up from where we left off last week. Having just blown people’s minds away with his teaching and casting out of demons, Jesus moves from the local synagogue to the private home of Simon and Andrew, where Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. Her illness is not nearly as dramatic as a man possessed with a demon, but remember this is first Century Palestine. There isn’t a Walgreen’s or CVS nearby to get a dose of Theraflu.
READ: Mark 1:29-34
Just as the demon possessed man asked for help, so too does Simon Peter reach out to Jesus to heal his mother in law – I will avoid any frivolous jokes at the expense of my mother in law...whom I love and fear dearly. Anyway, just like he did in the synagogue, Jesus immediately responds with willingness and compassion. He grabs the suffering woman by the hand and raises her up. And Immediately she is healed.
As Mark put it, “The fever left her, and she began to serve them.” That’s the heart of the story in one small verse. But because of the speed by which Mark tells it, you almost miss the extraordinary moment hidden in this ordinary event. A simple fever, a simple touch, it might seem like a small act but it’s an enormous gesture.
In this innocuous story, Mark shows us how God uses human compassion for divine revelation. All this is revealed in the way Jesus moves, his method for doing things, and his mission that he’s called us to participate in.
Let’s start with the way Jesus moves. In the NRSV it says, “As soon as they left the synagogue they entered the house of Simon and Andrew.” But the original Greek text is a little more Mark-like. The adverb used is εὐθὺς, which means “Immediately.”
Immediately Jesus leaves. Immediately he enters the house. Immediately Simon asks for help. And immediately Jesus responds. Jesus does not hesitate or chose to do something else. He immediately offers compassion without giving it a second thought.
There’s always a sense of urgency in Mark’s gospel. Jesus is constantly on the go. From proclaiming the good news to casting out demons or curing the common cold, Jesus moves as God does: Immediately.
Next, Mark tells us about Jesus’ method. When he sees the ailing woman, Jesus immediately reaches out his hand to touch her. You know that feeling, don’t you? When you’re sick, scared or anxious the warmth of human touch can be soothing.
I remember a time a spent a week in hospital where sleep happened in 2 hour intervals, interrupted by the nurses and doctors who would barge in to poke and prod me. Late one night the nurse in charge came in to check on me. Up until this moment she had been as cold as they kept the temperature of my room where I was confined to my bed. Unable to speak, I picked up my white board and wrote, “Will you wash my head?” Without hesitation, she filled a bucket with warm soapy water, and ever so kindly washed my body. Her demeanor changed, and so did mine. The room became warmer and more inviting. Human touch can be very soothing and healing.
Jesus often used an ordinary gesture of human compassion to reveal God’s intimate nature with us. Our God is not distant or hidden away or has given up on us like many people believe. Our God becomes incarnate. In Jesus, God came in human flesh to touch and heal our aches and pains.
Jesus loves as God loves: Intimately. Without uttering a single word, Jesus heals a sick woman. From there he reaches out his hand to the multitudes that come for his healing touch. With a single act of kindness Jesus can transform your wounds and pain, to true health and well-being. Jesus moves with Immediacy. And his method is intimacy.
Which brings us to Jesus’ ministry. Like we learned last week, it’s about teaching. More specifically, teaching with authority. That means Jesus is willing to do the will of God. This week we see his mission is also one of healing. It’s one of the ways Jesus practices what he preaches. Healing is the will of God.
This should make us look at our own ministry. And to ask ourselves if we are able to be little Christ’s in the world; bringing God’s healing grace in the way we love and care for others. That thought alone is intimidating. Sure, one can learn some things about the Bible to teach others, like Jesus did in the synagogue. But to possess the power to heal a person? You might be thinking, “I can’t do that. I’m nobody special. I’m barely keeping my head above water. What can I give to heal a person who is suffering?” I’m sure Peter and Andrew thought the same thing.
But let’s look at the movement and methods of this woman’s ministry after she was healed. After being healed by Christ, she doesn’t let another second of her life go to waste. She immediately got up and began to serve all the other people in the house. She showed her gratitude to God in the most basic and intimate way – providing hospitality to others.
This is something we are all capable of doing. We all have the ability to show kindness, to help a person in need, to feed a hungry friend or stranger. There is nothing different about this woman and you. She is an ordinary person, but one who chooses to do an extraordinary thing. No one tells her to do this gesture of kindness, instead she initiates this action on her own. She reveals the truth about God by doing what Jesus calls all of us to do: To serve one another.
This amazing woman gets it. And with great intention immediately she begins to fill glasses with wine. She puts out cured meats, smoked fish and fresh bread on the table. She sets out bowls of figs, olives and dates, humus and tabouli. She makes an ordinary meal, extraordinary.
We do not know her name. But we know she was the first one to truly understand what Jesus’ radical new ministry was about. She was the first to recognize that serving others is the key to our call as followers of Christ. Her ministry is ours to follow.
The obvious lesson in this story might be when God gives grace, it’s immediate. When God gives love, it’s intimate. When God sent Christ to be with us, God initiates. God always takes the first step in our healing and restoration. Once our eyes are open to this profound truth, our true healing can begin.
Her story is a story of us. When I think about Jesus holding the hand of this woman, I realize that God’s truth is not just proclaimed in impossible miracles, and divine revelations. More often than not, we see God in simple acts of kindness that ordinary people do in ordinary houses like ours.
What I hope you take away is this: Whenever and wherever we imitate Jesus, the extraordinary happens. Like we see in this particular story, the Christian church was born.
Having seen the divine presence of God in Jesus, this remarkable woman moves with a great purpose and intention, just like Jesus; transforming her kitchen into a new kind of worship space; making her table an altar where Christ would truly be present.
In this new sanctuary people will gather to break bread. And a new kind of family will be born. A family where race, social class, gender roles and all our other demons that lurk in us become powerless thanks to the incarnate power of Christ Jesus whose hands reach out to bless our meals, to bless our hearts, our homes, and all that is in the world.
Simon Peter and the other disciples won’t understand the power behind this event until after the Easter resurrection. Only then will it be made clear to them what Jesus meant when he said, “The Son of man came to serve and to give his life for all.”
Thanks to the story of this remarkable woman, we can see our purpose and our mission in this life – to welcome and treat people as if we are doing it to Jesus himself. It’s our call to act immediately, with intimacy and intention. This is how we teach the world of God’s glory this is how we heal our communities and country.
To borrow from one of those platitudes people like to say when we’re feeling like crap, “Nothing is impossible for God.” Whatever has made you sick, God wants to make you well. But if you don’t reach out and ask God for help, then the little stuff in your life will eventually become major headaches that will only cripple you and keep you from doing what you are called to do.
If God can take the ordinary and make extraordinary…then imagine what God can do for you and through you. All that is required is to take Jesus’ hand and follow him by loving one another as God loves you.
*sermon adapted from a message first given on 2/4/2018
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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