4 February 2018
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Epiphany 5B (RCL)
Psalm 147:1-12, 26C
1 Corinthians 9: 16-23
Everything in Mark’s Gospel happens abruptly. Jesus is in Capernaum one day, and then off again. All of this happens on the Sabbath (or just after). Jesus and those with him return from synagogue to Simon’s house and find Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. Jesus takes her by the hand and she serves them. We read this and cringe – the only role for a woman is serving.
But there is lot more going on here than meets our eye. This is Simon’s mother-in-law. It would have been unusual for her to be living in Simon’s house. If she had a son, she would be living with him, so we already know this is a woman on the margins – her only male relative is a son-in-law. Also, we know this is the sabbath. Jesus heals on the sabbath and she serves on the sabbath – two transgressions of social order. And, the word used for service is diakonein, to minister. Mark uses that word very infrequently. The angels minister to Jesus in the wilderness; Jesus says that the son of man came not be served but to serve, and then at the foot of the cross, Mark tells us that there were women who followed Jesus from Nazareth who used to minister to him. So, this is an activity of some status. As Simon’s mother-in-law, she would have been expected to serve, and her inability to do so would have brought shame on the household. Jesus preserves the household from shame and accepts her ministry — all on the sabbath.
At evening, after the sun goes down (after the Sabbath), the people in the town bring to him all those with diseases and demons — all of those prevented from taking their rightful place in the life of the community, and Jesus heals them. And then, before the sun comes up on the next day, he leaves town to proclaim the kingdom in other towns. This is a pattern he enjoined on his disciples. Pull into town, heal the sick, cast out demons, proclaim the kingdom, eat what is set before you (accept the ministrations of the townspeople) and then go on to the next town. Having removed the obstacles to appropriate community life, they were to trust the living of the kingdom to those they left behind.
Paul also speaks of living among those whom he hopes to ‘win.’ In order to proclaim the kingdom, we first have to live the life of those to whom we come. It’s not about converting them to our point of view, but understanding what the kingdom looks like from their perspective. We will be called upon to give up some of our most cherished notions of what is best in life.