5th Sunday Ordinary Time – Abbot Joel
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time-B
Job 7:1-4, 6-7
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
A day in the life of Jesus. That is what these scenes from Mark’s gospel can easily be called. This is especially true if we link them together with the scene in last Sunday’s Gospel text. If you remember it is the Sabbath and Jesus is in the synagogue teaching with authority and confronting the spirit world of the demons with his authoritative word. His teaching and his word liberate the possessed man. Now Jesus moves on the same day from synagogue to house. A public scene to a domestic scene, from church to home. And then in the evening from inside the home to the door of the house and then the next morning away from the home to a deserted place, a place where there is no human habitation. And there in the solitude to pray, to speak with the Father. And then to move on to the next place. There is no going back for Jesus. The day moves on and so must he. It all looks so simple and yet Mark has packed this one day with so much.
The scene in the synagogue last week, in fact, sets out the trajectory of Jesus’ days… He is about teaching the Kingdom of God and he is about showing that the Kingdom has arrived. The Kingdom confronts and overcomes what does not belong to it, namely the Kingdom of the evil one. That Kingdom is manifested in both possession and sickness. If the Kingdom of God is here, then everything else must give way to it. This day in the life of Jesus offers us a clear picture of what that looks like: this breaking in of the Kingdom.
Jesus leaves the synagogue to enter into a family situation, a home where the woman of the household is incapacitated by illness. It seems so simple at first: Jesus walks in, hears that the mother-in-law of one of his main followers is ill; he goes up to her, takes her by the hand, helps her up, she is cured and then she sets about her duty of hospitality, getting food and drink for the visitors. Upon looking closely at the scene, we discover a little more than a lovely healing. What we find is something of a contrast to the synagogue. Here Jesus is among his own, his new family. And what do we see his followers doing? They intercede with Jesus for one of their own. Here is an important member down, fever has attacked her. In the synagogue it was a nameless man, a stranger that was possessed. But here the fever demon has brought down one of our own. It is the disciples of Jesus that make the connection between the mother-in-law and Jesus. And as soon as Jesus hears their concern and their plea, he moves in her direction. Then he extends his hand to her hand and raises her up. This does not look like much. The gospel says matter-of-factly, “He helped her up.” But hidden in that simple phrase and gesture is the key to what is happening in and around Jesus. For the word to “help up” or “to raise up” is the word for Jesus’s own resurrection. He was raised up on the third day. When she is raised, the fever left her. With Jesus’ hand to raise her, the fever demon is over come and goes away.
To be down with a fever, is to be in the death position. To have a fever is a form of possession. Something else is running your life. We don’t have to be sick with a fever to feel overwhelmed, to feel like life has gone out of us. It is easy to put Job’s self description in the first reading into the story at this point. He is describing his own kind of fever as it were. In fact he first speaks about the lot of human beings: he sees human life as drudgery, full of menial, unpleasant work. Then he sees human life in terms of paid day worker; living from day to day without any meaning or joy in the work. Then thirdly, he experiences the human lot a mere slavery. You have no choice about what you do, you are always at someone else’s command. There is no compensation of any kind as a slave. To feel that worthlessness of life is in reality a demon that has taken away the meaning and purpose of life. Job feels that and then goes on to describe his own situation. He describes it in terms of night and darkness. For him night is the most difficult and dreaded time. Ask anyone who is sick and cannot sleep. Night is easily the hardest time for them. Soon it comes to be dreaded. Night and darkness already invoke the demon side of our lives. But even the day is not much better. They go back and forth like a weaver’s shuttle and then come to an end. No mention of the beautiful cloth that has been woven, just a thread cut off at the end….no hope he says, days gone like the wind. No joy, no happiness even in the day time……It does not take much imagination to stand with Jesus at the door of this house and look out at the crowd of sick and possessed people and see in their eyes and faces what Job describes. And into that world steps Jesus with touch and word, casting out the old and restoring it anew. Or shall we say, banishing the face of death and bringing forth life. Job’s lament and bitter complaint is answered by God’s Holy One. It is Jesus who stands in the midst of such emptiness, who in fact will be seized by it himself, and who will be loved back to life because he did.
When Mark speaks of Jesus lifting up Simon’s mother-in-law, he wants us to hear that Jesus’ work is about resurrection, about lifting up, about restoring and healing. He wants us to know that with Jesus in the midst of the community there is a power for good available to be invoked and called up. Mark sees in the house, those early small house Churches gathering around and telling how Jesus broke the stronghold of the Kingdom of evil, sickness and death. And how he continues to do that when any disciples call on him.
The last line of this story of Jesus with Simon’s mother in law makes it very clear as to what Jesus is really doing and what those who follow him are to be doing. Again, it all is so simple: Mark says the fever left her once she was raised up and she waited on them. It looks like she was cured and so she returned to domestic duties: she had work to do to prepare meal for her son in law and his friends and this wonderful healer he has brought into the house. But she is not returning to domestic duties. Translate “waited on them” as “served them” and we have a clear hint that this women is about service. But then service is the sign of the disciple, is it not? Later on in the Gospel, Jesus will describe himself as one who serves: “The Son of Man did not come to be served (to be waited upon) but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Ml 10:45). Just prior to that he makes it clear to the disciples that their position in the community is to be the slave of all. That is their first and only position. The fever-ridden woman is restored to her dignity as a member of the community that serves.
I dare say the evangelist Mark is trying to get us to see that we are Church when we are in service to one another. The risen Jesus is in our midst now as one who himself was raised up because he served until death. And in our midst now, in our community now, he stretches out his hand and lifts us up so that we too can go on serving. And when we do that then we are announcing and living the Kingdom of God among us.
That is what Paul tells us today that he did: he became slave to all so that Christ’s power and presence might be manifested. And that he says, he must do precisely because he is Christ’s slave, Christ’s servant. It takes time to make our lives and our communities living bodies of service, but that is where the power and mystery of the risen Lord lies. The disciples missed it, I’m afraid. They wanted to seize Jesus and keep him around because of his healing power. But Jesus insists, I am about service not about fame and wonder working.
Jesus starts his day in solitude with the Father. May we make our times of solitude and prayer the moments when we are granted renewed strength to be servants in communities that serve and bind up broken hearts. That is what God’s servant Jesus is doing today. And that is what he is again freeing us disciples to do.
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