Mark 1: 29-39 Jesus' message – simple yet profound
The good news of Jesus Christ is both simple and profound.
In essence it is a most simple message, so accessible that little children can respond with as much authenticity as the well educated adult. Yet also in essence it is so profoundly complex that sophisticated Christian thinkers with the most brilliant minds are left floundering in its Mystery.
The way the Gospel of Mark is written, reflects something of this mystery. On the surface it reads like a simple story written by a naive but faithful follower of Christ Jesus. It can easily be read in an hour from its abrupt beginning to its abrupt end. Yet this first of the written Gospels is not a simple composition at all. It is a sophisticated creedal document in its own right.
Mark is not just clumsily stitching together stories of Jesus. The careful way Mark arranges the stories, the questions he pursues, are all to do with faith. He is confronting his readers with the Mystery at the heart of Christian message.
It is question time. With evangelical fervour, Mark wants readers to become fascinated with this Jesus of Nazareth. The questions that Mark will not let rest are: “What is going on here? Who is this Jesus? From where does he get such power?”
In a sense, Mark takes his readers on the same journey that those first disciples of Jesus experienced. The disciples had questions before answers. Mark does the same. He does not present readers with a Nicene Creed, Westminster Confession, or the many volumes of Karl Barth’s theology, and ask us to agree with their content. He stirs our curiosity.
The first disciples journeyed with a man called Jesus, listened to his teaching, wondered at his loving deeds, became acutely aware of something exceptional at work, and had to formulate their own faith in response. Mark wants us to take the same journey, and find the surprise that they had found. “Find out for yourself,” he is saying.
Mark's stories are carefully chosen scenes for evangelical preaching.
Over the past two weeks we have explored to of these stories.
There was the call of the disciples. In Mark this is all very brisk. By the waters of Galilee Jesus saw Simon and Andrew casting their nets, not far off shore. He called out to them: “Follow me.” Without any delay, they came ashore, left their nets and went off with Jesus. A little later Jesus comes upon James and John busy mending their nets. Jesus called them to follow. Without hesitation they got up, and went off with Jesus; leaving their dad, Jonas Zebedee, and his hired workers.
What is going on here? Who is this Jesus who puts such an unreasonable request to tough fishermen to which they immediately respond? Other rabbis wait for would-be disciples to apply, if and when they are keen, but this young rabbi takes the initiative. He confronts them in their busy lives and calls them. Mark confronts us with the surprising initiative and remarkable charisma of Jesus.
Next in the Gospel story comes Sabbath worship in the town of Capernaum, which was situated on the northern end of the Lake. Jesus turned up at church and at some point was invited to give the sermon.
Those members of the congregation suddenly sat up and took notice. What Jesus had to say and the power with which he said it, astonished the people. This was something new here, something living and real, a preacher who really knew what he was talking about. They had never met anyone like this before. What was going on here? Who was he, really?
But wait, there is more! There was a major disturbance. In the synagogue on that Sabbath day was one who was possessed by a demon. This fellow shouted at Jesus, feeling threatened by this stranger.
Jesus immediately rebuked him, and ordered the demonic power out of the man. The man was delivered of his demon, and was completely healed. The people were amazed saying: “ What is this? He speaks with such authority that even the unclean spirits obey him.”
They saw in Jesus a man who had power over hell’s agents. He sends evil packing, back to where it belongs. No wonder they were amazed.
Today’s reading reveals the meaning of Jesus. Jesus left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever.
Remember what I said last week about disease, demons and death. They are all related. Simon's mothers-in-law's fever was part of this unholy trinity. The fever was an invasion from hell. So Jesus continues his battle with the forces of evil.
Jesus went to the bedside of the sick woman and again showed his power and authority. This time he didn't even speak a word of authority against the evil fever. Jesus simply took her hand and raised her from the sick bed. In that moment her fever departed and she was able to serve the visitors a meal. What is it with this man who doesn't even need to recite a healing formula to achieve a cure?
Also notice her serving a meal to Jesus. Righteous rabbi's would not allow a woman to wait on them. That was improper. It had to be a man. Not only was the mother-in-law of Simon Peter delivered from the evil of illness, she was also delivered from the evil of oppressive social convention. She was able to express her gratitude in a most practical way and knew it would be acceptable in the eyes of Jesus. Who is this Jesus who is free from social inhibitions?
The next scene seems to stress the wide-ranging compassion of Jesus. At sunset the Sabbath Day officially ended. The people of Capernaum then felt free to bring their sick to Jesus for healing. The front of the house was crowded with many kinds of illness. The lame and the blind, the leper and the deaf, the mentally ill and the cancerous; child and grandparent, women and men; they came to Jesus and found healing. There seems no limit to his compassion and his authority. What in the name of God is going on here?
This same theme of the universality of Christ’s ministry is continues in the final section of today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel. After rising early and going to a lonely place for prayer, Jesus tells his disciples that he must spread the good news further. “And he went through all Galilee preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” All over the land the question is being posed: “Is there no boundary at all to the compassion and authority of Jesus of Nazareth?”
Mark is the announcer of good news for the people. Yet he does not do this by presenting his readers with a doctrinal statement on the nature of Jesus. Mark tells it in story and leaves us with the question: “Who is this Jesus? What do you make of him? Does this person fit your normal categories? How do you explain his charisma? What is the source of his wide-ranging power?”
Review the story again as Mark tells it
Jesus calls disciples and they immediately forsake their old life and follow him.
Jesus teaches in the synagogue and people marvel at the authority with which he speaks.
He confronts a deranged man and instantly sends the demon packing back to hell.
Jesus simply takes the hand of a woman in high fever and raises her up to good health.
All kinds of human suffering comes to the door where Jesus is and they find healing.
Swiftly he moves on to express his compassion throughout the province of Galilee.
Those who first believed in Jesus did so because of what they heard with their own ears and saw with their own eyes. Their faith did not comes neatly packaged in a creed, but possessed them bit by bit as they journeyed with him. Maybe in our evangelism we need to remember that.
We cannot literally hear Jesus with our own ears and see him with our own eyes. But we do have the stories of the impact of this Jesus. And that story of Jesus is massively larger than the one Mark had.
We have two thousand years of the Jesus stories. Millions of people whose lives have been changed by Jesus of Nazareth. And there is plenty of testimony in this 21st century to the unique charisma of this person we call Christ. The story continues. When people see what Jesus can do, the evangelical question that Mark poses becomes unavoidable.
All research on how people come to faith today, shows that it is not primarily through up-front preachers (no matter how much we preachers would like to think so) but through ordinary people witnessing to their faith. And by witnessing I don’t mean seizing every moment to put in a loud religious word, but by living the faith and quietly and lovingly speaking about it at the appropriate moment. Testimony poses the evangelical question: Who is this Jesus who has such an effect on people today?
Those who in response to humble testimony, take the plunge and join the Christian journey, will on that journey discover for themselves who this Jesus really is. His charisma will work in their own lives. The demons will be sent packing, the fevers of life will lose their power, purpose will fill their days and nights, and a new compassion for humanity in its diverse moods and needs, will grow. Then, later on the journey, our common creeds and doctrines may then become joyful affirmations; not as the cause of faith but as an expression of it.
The story of Jesus as told by Mark is both simple and profound. Likewise the story of Jesus as lived by us and told by us is simple yet profound. If we are faithful, and not embarrassed about its simplicity, but live it humbly and joyfully, then those around us are more likely to be brought to that profound wonder and light that follows the question: Who is this Jesus.?
Please, my fellow disciples of Jesus, never be embarrassed by the simplicity which lies at the core of your faith. And never ‘fudge’ the profound complexity by pretending that you have all the answers to every question. Be frank and be true, and then the evangelical questions will be raised by the way you simply follow your Lord.
With thanks to Bruce Prewer for his thoughts and ideas on this passage