This week’s gospel (Mark 1: 29-39) takes place on the same day as Jesus had taught in the synagogue and driven the unclean spirits from the man who had tried to interrupt him there. (Last week's gospel)
The gospel begins, Immediately they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. It seems that Simon cared about his mother-in-law and the gospel implies that he brought Jesus to the house in the hope that Jesus would do something.
He (Jesus) came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. In a sign of intimacy and care that one would not expect on a first encounter, especially with a sick person, Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up. In Hebrew scripture fevers were seen as a punishment for evil. Leviticus 26:16 reads, I in turn will do this to you: I will bring terror on you; consumption and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away.
By Jesus’ day the rigid interpretation of fevers as a sign of moral evil seems to have loosened. While they were not directly attributed to sin by the person they were definitely not seen as good. At a minimum, they interfered with healthy human and spiritual life.
Taken together with the cure of the demon-possessed man in the synagogue, immediately before this episode, Mark has sketched a Messianic picture of Jesus as one who came to a community beset by illness and evil and he brought salvation to those he encountered.
“…she began to serve.” While some may bristle at the note that she began to serve them, her actions confirm that she was fully restored to health with enough energy that she was able to continue normal activities. Moreover, service is a key topic in the call and pursuit of Jesus. In Mark 9:35 Jesus will tell his disciples, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” More poignantly, in Mark 10:45, Jesus describes his own mission this way: “…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Simon’s mother-in-law intuited the importance of service and took the initiative in response to the gift she had received.
The gospel continues, that evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases… The good news of Jesus’ healing powers spread quickly. A large crowd of people gathered at the entrance to Simon’s home, at sunset, when the sabbath officially ended. They had brought with them their relatives and friends who were sick and possessed.
It must have been quite a sight! People who had been lame or blind, or afflicted by some energy-draining illness would have been smiling, dancing with friends and doing things their injuries, illness or possession had made impossible… then looking back toward Jesus with gratitude as they saw him cure someone else. And as they did so, they may have reflected on the possibilities for themselves that had, until recently, been unattainable.
One gets the impression that the evening of Jesus’ curing and the associated glee continued for many hours as word spread, and more people came with their sick or possessed. For his part, Jesus must have smiled at the people who were enjoying their restoration to health. This was the abundant life that Jesus said he had come to bring. (John 10:10)
… and he cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak… The anachronistic image that comes to mind when Jesus forbade the demons to speak is of Donald Trump having his twitter account suspended for constantly spewing lies and hate. However, Mark does not say that Jesus forbade them to speak because of lies or hate… but because they knew him. While the demons knew, in a superficial way, who Jesus was, their knowledge would have been significantly incomplete. Their talk of Jesus would have been meant to damage his mission.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. However late the evening’s celebrations had gone on, Jesus had risen early and gone out to a quiet place to pray. From the context of the story we learn that Jesus had gotten up before any others and left the house. Beyond sleep, Jesus needed to replenish himself with prayer. In the aftermath of his baptism and acknowledgment by his Father, Jesus had gone to the wilderness to pray. It was a place of reconnection with his Father and with his understanding of his mission.
Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” No doubt they were looking for him! For as many as he had cured the night before there were probably others who had arrived early in the morning as the word spread and they wanted Jesus to cure them or their relatives or friends too.
He (Jesus) answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message (some translations use the phrase the good news) there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Jesus response to Simon and his companions may explain the phrase in Mark 1:34 that Jesus cured many …. he did not cure all who had been brought to the door of Simon’s house. Jesus wanted to do more than cure. He wanted to proclaim the good news of repentance for salvation.
And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. Teaching and healing were different dimensions of Jesus’ message of salvation. Each was meant to build wholeness… one of spirit and the other of body. He offered both, freely, to anyone. Neither depended on the faith of the people who approach him.