The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Mark 1:29-39

THE THING WE MISS ABOUT THE GOSPEL OF MARK IS THAT IT IS WRITTEN TO BE READ ALOUD AND HEARD, AND BY BREAKING IT UP INTO THE WEEKLY PERISCOPES WE LOSE ITS ORAL POWER. IT SEEMS TO US TO BE A SERIES OF UNCONNECTED STORIES, WHEN NOTHING COULD BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH. WHEN READ ALOUD, ONE GETS THE SENSE OF A FAST MOVING ACCOUNT THAT CONVEYS AN IMMEDIACY THAT CAN NOT BE IGNORED. IT BEINGS WITH THE ANCIENT PROPHECY OF THE COMING OF THE MESSIAH, MOVES TO THE BAPTISM OF JESUS WHERE HE IS REVEALED AS THE SON OF GOD, HIS TESTING IN THE DESERT, HIS PROCLAMATION “TO REPENT AND BELIEVE, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND,” HIS CALLING OF THE DISCIPLES, HIS CASTING OUT THE DEMON IN THE SYNAGOGUE AT CAPERNAUM ON THE SABBATH, THEN HIS VISIT TO SIMON PETER’S HOUSE AND THE EVENTS WHICH FOLLOWED. ALL OF THESE EVENTS ARE CONNECTED, AND LEAD US TO CONSIDER WHO HE IS AND HIS MISSION.

I HAVE READ A COMMENTARY ON THE STORY OF PETER’S MOTHER IN LAW THAT ASSERTS IT IS SUCH A SIMPLE STORY WITH SO LITTLE SIGNIFICANCE THAT IT MUST BE TRUE. I WON’T TELL YOU THE NAME OF THE COMMENTATOR, BECAUSE HE IS SO OFF THE MARK (PUN INTENDED). THIS LITTLE STORY HAS A VAST SIGNIFICANCE, BECAUSE IT ILLUSTRATES IN A NUT SHELL THE MINISTRY OF THE CHRIST OF GOD.

STILL ON THE SABBATH, JESUS ENTERED THE HOUSE OF SIMON PETER, ALONG WITH SIMON, ANDREW, AND JAMES AND JOHN. HE WAS TOLD PETER’S MOTHER IN LAW WAS IN BED WITH A FEVER, SO HE WENT INTO HER BEDROOM, TOOK HER BY THE HAND, AND LIFTED HER UP. THE FEVER LEFT HER, AND SHE BEGAN TO SERVE THEM. AS THE SENIOR WOMAN OF THE HOUSE, SERVING THE GUESTS WAS HER DUTY AND HONOR. IN DOING WHAT HE DID, JESUS BROKE A WHOLE LOT OF RULES. HE ENTERED THE BEDROOM OF A WOMAN, HE TOUCHED A WOMAN NOT OF HIS FAMILY, HE HEALED HER WITH HIS TOUCH; AND ALL OF THIS ON THE SABBATH. BY LIFTING HER UP, JESUS RESTORED HER TO HER PLACE IN THE FAMILY AND THE COMMUNITY AND GAVE HER BACK HER DIGNITY AND HONOR.

WHEN THE TOWN HEARD ABOUT THIS, AND YOU KNOW HOW FAST WORD GETS AROUND, AS SOON AS THE SABBATH WAS OVER, THE WHOLE TOWN WAS AT THE DOOR LOOKING FOR HEALING. AFTER A LONG NIGHT OF HEALING, JESUS WENT OF TO A DESERT PLACE TO REST AND PRAY. HERE THE DISCIPLES FOUND HIM, AND TOLD HIM EVERYONE WAS SEARCHING FOR HIM FOR MORE OF THE SAME. TO THE REQUEST TO RETURN AND PHYSICALLY HEAL SOME MORE, JESUS RESPONDED, “LET US GO ON TO THE NEIGHBORING TOWNS, SO THAT I CAN PROCLAIM THE MESSAGE THERE ALSO; FOR THAT IS WHAT I CAME OUT TO DO.”

WE SPEND A LOT OF TIME ON THE PHYSICAL HEALINGS BY JESUS, WHICH CAN DISTRACT US FROM WHAT HE CAME TO DO. HE CAME TO RESTORE US TO OUR PROPER PLACE BEFORE GOD BY LIFTING US UP OUT OF OUR SIN AND FROM WHATEVER HAS A GRIP ON US. ALTHOUGH HE DID HEAL MANY PHYSICALLY, HE DID NOT HEAL ALL. WE MUST CONSIDER THE PHYSICAL HEALINGS AS MORE OF A RESTORATION OF THE PERSON TO WHAT THEY WERE BEFORE THE ILLNESS OR DISEASE, AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY, AS A PREVIEW OF THE RESTORATION OF THOSE WHO REPENT AND BELIEVE TO THEIR PLACE IN THE KINGDOM AS THE CHILDREN OF GOD. THE WORD FOR ‘HEAL’ IS THE SAME FOR ‘RESTORE’ AND ‘SAVE.’ THE ONE THING THAT ALL THE PEOPLE JESUS HEALED HAVE IN COMMON IS THAT THEY ARE ALL DEAD. ALL PHYSICAL HEALING IS A TEMPORARY RESTORATION OF THE BODY; THE VASTLY MORE IMPORTANT THING IS THE RESTORATION OF OUR SPIRIT.

WHEN WE REPENT AND BELIEVE IN THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM, OUR FIRST IMPULSE SHOULD BE TO SERVE; AS IT WAS WITH PETER’S MOTHER IN LAW. SERVICE TO OTHERS IS NEITHER DEMEANING NOR CULTURALLY DEPENDENT. THE WILLINGNESS TO BE OF SERVICE TO GOD THROUGH THE SERVICE OF OTHERS, TO BE DIAKONOI, IS THE MARK OF THE SPIRIT RESTORED BY GOD’S GRACE IN JESUS TO BE WHAT WE WERE CREATED TO BE. SERVICE IS NOT THE WAY INTO THE KINGDOM, BUT IS THE SIGN OF THE KINGDOM TAKING SHAPE IN OUR LIVES AND SPIRITS.

MANY YEARS AGO, AS I WAS JUST BEGINNING MY SERVICE AS AN ARMY CHAPLAIN IN THE 101ST AIRBOURNE, I WAS CALLED TO THE HOSPITAL ONE NIGHT TO BE WITH A YOUNG SOLDIER’S WIFE WHO WAS HORRIBLY BURNED. SHE WAS BOILING WATER AND HAD SOMEHOW SPILLED IT ALL DOWN THE FRONT OF HER BODY. HER HUSBAND WAS DEPLOYED AND SHE WAS ALONE, SO WE KNEW IT WAS A TRAGIC ACCIDENT. AS THE HOSPITAL WAS TRYING TO GET HER STABLE ENOUGH TO TRANSFER TO THE BURN CENTER IN TEXAS, I FELT CALLED TO BE WITH HER SOME TIME EVERY DAY. SHE WAS A LAPSED CATHOLIC MARRIED TO A NON CATHOLIC, SO SHE FELT LEFT OUT BY HER CHURCH, AND THAT SHE WAS NOT REALLY DOING ANYTHING WITH HER LIFE. AFTER A FEW WEEKS, DURING WHICH SHE WAS IN CONSTANT PAIN, SHE ASKED ME IF I COULD GIVE HER COMMUNION AT MY NEXT VISIT. SHE SAID THAT IF SHE COULD NOT COME BACK TO HER CHURCH, SHE WANTED TO COME BACK TO CHRIST, AND, WHEN SHE GOT BETTER, DO SOMETHING WITH HER LIFE FOR GOD. NEXT VISIT, I SHARED COMMUNION WITH HER, AND PRAYED FOR HEALING, AND WENT HOME.

IN THE EARLY HOURS OF THE MORNING, THE CHARGE NURSE CALLED ME AND SAID TO HURRY BACK; SHE WAS DYING. I RUSHED TO HER BEDSIDE AND GOT THERE JUST AFTER SHE DIED. I SAID THE PRAYERS FOR THE DYING, AND WENT OUT INTO THE COLD FEBRUARY NIGHT. I STOOD OUTSIDE OF THE HOSPITAL, LOOKING UP AT THE STAR FILLED SKY, AND DEMANDED OF GOD, “WHY COULDN’T YOU HEAL HER?” EVEN AS THE THOUGHT WAS FORMED, A BLAZING METEOR RIPPED ACROSS THE NIGHT SKY, AND, FROM MY PERSPECTIVE, IT LOOKED LIKE IT WAS GOING UP. IN THAT MOMENT, I UNDERSTOOD; GOD DID HEAL HER, FOREVER, AND TOOK HER HOME.

WHILE WE ALL MUST SUFFER THE PAINS AND ILLNESSES OF THIS LIFE, WHILE WE MIGHT SEEK AND FIND A TEMPORARY RESTORATION TO GOOD HEALTH, WE ALL MUST, SOONER OR LATER, PASS THOUGH THE GATES OF DEATH. WHEN I SERVED AS A HOSPICE CHAPLAIN FOR EIGHT YEARS, I SAW HOW THOSE WHO HEARD THE GOOD NEWS AND PLACED THEIR TRUST IN THE GRACE OF GOD IN JESUS, FACED ALL MANNER OF DEVASTATING ILLNESSES, AND THE NEWS OF THEIR IMPENDING DEATH WITH A CALM CERTAINTY THAT THEY WOULD BE HEALED; IF NOT IN THIS LIFE, BUT CERTAINLY IN THE LIFE GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THEM.

WE CAN FACE ALL THE TRIALS OF LIFE, AND EVEN APPROACH OUR PHYSICAL END WITHOUT FEAR AND WITH GREAT HOPE. WE HAVE HEARD THE MESSAGE THAT JESUS CAME OUT TO PROCLAIM, WHICH IS, AS THE PSALMIST WROTE, “THE LORD TAKES PLEASURE IN THOSE WHO FEAR HIM, IN THOSE WHO HOPE IN HIS STEADFAST LOVE.” OUR HOPE IN THE STEADFAST LOVE OF GOD IN JESUS HIS SON IS OUR ANCHOR WHICH HOLDS US SECURE THOUGH ALL THE TEMPORARY CHANGES OF THIS LIFE, AND WHICH TIES US FOREVER TO OUR ETERNAL HOME.
PRAISE THE LORD!

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