Friday, February 3, 2012

Reflections on the Gospel – St. Mark 1:29-39

Read the text of the Gospel here: St. Mark 1:29-39

A Kingdom Story
… Jesus came to the Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the Good News.” (Mark 1:14-15)
Last week I noted that everything that follows in the Gospel of Mark emerges from these verses (which themselves are a restatement of the heading which appears in verse 1).  After Jesus continues with his ministry we begin to get glimpses of what it means that the Kingdom of God has come into the world in Jesus.  Last week our Gospel text showed the power of the Holy Spirit, working in Jesus, confronting the unclean spirits of our world and overcoming them.  In this mini-resurrection story we see that in Jesus the Holy Spirit has the power and authority to confront and defeat the unclean spirits of this world that work against us and to restore us, give us back our lives.  But this is only a small glimpse of the picture of the Kingdom.
And there is so much room for misunderstanding. Kingdoms come and Kingdoms go.  One great power defeats another promising change and a better life.  But as soon as the dust clears it turns out that the promise was a false one.  One great Kingdom is no different from the next for the common people on the ground.  People are still hungry, over-worked, over-taxed, afraid and oppressed.  What makes the promise of the Kingdom of God any different than all the great promises that have been held out before?  For their part, the disciples don’t seem to understand that there is any difference.  They seem to be positioning themselves for important positions in the new government led by Jesus.  But Jesus for his part, tries to contain all of this talk.  He orders the disciples and the spirits and anyone else who ventures as guess to BE QUIET!  For exactly this reason: with such a tiny glimpse of the Kingdom it is easy for us to jump to conclusions that are incorrect and exaggerate the few experiences we have based on our (incorrect) pre-conceptions.  “Jesus is the Messiah!”  “That must mean – he is a great King – just like the Emperor – He is really powerful (look what he did to those unclean spirits) - he will raise and army – he will conquer the Romans – he will establish a government – maybe I can be Secretary of State – This will be GREAT!”  Wrong – you are missing the point.  So Jesus says: just be quiet and wait and learn.  You need to have more pieces of the puzzle put together – the most important piece being the cross!
That brings us to our Gospel text for today: a healing, but not just any healing.  Jesus retires to the home of Peter after his experience in the synagogue only to discover that Peter’s mother-in-law has a fever and is not able to fulfill her important social role as hostess.  So Jesus heals her – but he does more than that.  First, he restores her to community.  When people were sick in the 1st century they lost their standing in community.  Being restored to the community of family and friends was extremely important.  And of course, this is yet another glimpse of the Kingdom for us as well.  In Baptism we become a part of a community of disciples of Jesus.  In confession and forgiveness we are restored to this community.  The Kingdom is about the community that is brought together in the Holy Spirit to which we are an essential part and to which we can be restored again and again by the power of God’s love and grace through Jesus.
But this is no mere healing. Like the story of the Jesus confronting the unclean spirits from last week, this is also a resurrection story.  The text tells us he takes her by the hand and “raises her us.”  The word (unfortunately translated as “lifted” in the NRSV) is the same verb that is used of Jesus in Mark 16:6 (pew bible NT page 42) The women see a young man in a white robe sitting in the tomb who tells them that Jesus, who was crucified is no longer there in the tomb but “he has been raised.”  This same verb, “to rise” is used several other times in Mark: the healing of the paralytic and the raising of Jairus’ daughter among them. Jesus raises them all, and restores them to life in the community.  Likewise, Peter’s mother-in-law is raised, by Jesus and restored to community so that she can fulfill her calling to “serve.” The Kingdom is a place of restoration and resurrection!
Finally we come to one of the more misunderstood words in this passage.  Peter’s mother-in-law is raised and then commences to “serve” them.  This is, however, not a case of a woman returning to doing “women’s work.”  The word for “serve” is also a loaded word in Mark.  This particular word is used only two other times in this Gospel and the most important time would be the central use from Mark 10:45 (pew bibles page 36): For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.”  This use of the word “serve” then defines the other uses – in our text 1:31 (page 27) and also in 15:41 (pages 41/42).  Jesus, the King, himself serves.  And those who follow Jesus, those who are a part of the Kingdom also are called to serve.  The Kingdom is a place of service, where those in need are served and others are called to serve.  And this text goes even farther in showing us that one who is served, like Peter’s mother-in-law initially needing Jesus’ healing service, then when restored to community begins herself to serve.  Just like us. This then is yet another glimpse of the Kingdom – a place where the power of God restores, raises and calls to service in the Kingdom.  This then indeed is the Good News:

How vital it is to know that the coming of God's kingdom is indeed good news? One could imagine God's reign coming as a reign of terror. Humans have plenty of experience with powerful kings doing terrible things to those over whom they reign. Will God be like that? Will it be punishment and brutality for those who don't get on board? No. Jesus shows over and over again, that God's power serves the people. From the very beginning of his ministry Jesus casts out those spirits opposed to God's people, those things which lay them low, as part of his heralding the kingdom. God comes to restore, to save and God's power is sufficient to do it. (1)
 (1) Dr. Sarah Hinrich, Luther Seminary - at http://www.workingpreacher.org

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