Proclaiming the kingdom

8 February 2015
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Epiphany 5B (RCL)
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

In this short little passage from Mark’s Gospel (10 verses), three distinct actions take place. Mark is nothing if not urgent. Immediately after leaving the synagogue, Jesus and his four disciples enter Simon’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever. Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up (the word that will be used of his resurrection), and she serves them. After the dramatic exorcism in the synagogue, this episode seems almost homey. Plenty of people react to Simon’s mother-in-law waiting on these five men after she has just been in bed with a fever. But later in Mark’s Gospel, after Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter, he will instruct those present to “give her something to eat.” I think Mark is establishing the theme that healings and table-fellowship are connected. It would have been a shame for her not to be able to serve them, so she is being restored to a proper place in the household community.

Immediate after this episode (just after the sun has gone down on the day that began in the synagogue), Jesus heals all the sick in the town and casts out demons from all who had them. The whole city is gathered at the door. Here is a model of the instruction to the Twelve to enter whatever house will have them, eat what is set before them, heal the sick in it, and proclaim the kingdom to the town. This is not nearly as dramatic work as casting out demons in synagogues. So far, in Mark’s Gospel, we have not hint of the content of Jesus’ preaching except, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel.” This series of episodes gives us the content. First, a very public proclamation that the very social institutions which should be offering support are under the sway of demonic powers (the demon in the synagogue), then some house-teaching and healing, empowering the people of the household to be restored to their proper social status, then and extension of that message to a whole village.

And, immediately after proclaiming that message, Jesus leaves town before dawn, apparently intending to leave Simon and Andrew and James and John behind. When they find him, he says it’s time to go on to the next town. Presumably, those who stay behind have received the message and can continue the work Jesus began, restoring persons to their proper places. Any number of times, after a healing, a person wants to follow Jesus and Jesus instead sends them home to proclaim what “the Lord has done for you.” Jesus intends those who have been healed to extend the same healing to others, by proclaiming the kingdom, the restoration of the local covenant community.

I think Paul is getting at the same thing, when he says he is under obligation to proclaim the kingdom. We are to extend to others the same grace we ourselves have received: we are to pay the kingdom forward. In any given situation, instead of asking “What’s in it for me?” we should be asking, “What have I received that I can give?”

The Isaiah passage speaks to the people who feel God has abandoned them in their Exile. God reminds them that God has created all things. That God has not forgotten us. It may take time, but we will be restored. We are always looking for the hero who will save us, but Mark tells us that once we have heard the message of the kingdom, the power is in our hands.

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