5th Sunday of Epiphany (B)
1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
I’m finding this text in Mark troubling, and for one particular reason. I imagine the situation in this text from the perspective of someone in the crowd outside Simon’s mother-in-law’s house after Jesus healed her; usually I imagine a father with a sick child. Jesus had just wow-ed everyone with his teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, cast out an unclean spirit there, healed Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever, and now everyone’s bringing the sick and the possessed for healing, the crowds overflowing the front lawn at the house. This is going on all night long, everyone is getting healed. All the demons are being cast out. The man and his child, I imagine, are getting closer and closer to the front. More healings, more demons exorcized. They are almost to the door. After waiting all night long, edging closer, being patient, this father and child are finally at the door.
Suddenly Jesus excuses himself and steps inside. Surely he’ll be right back, won’t he? He’s just getting a drink or going to the bathroom; he’ll come back and finish healing those who’ve been waiting all night, right?
But he doesn’t come back. He must have gone out the back way, because the reports are that he’s gone to some deserted place to pray. Will he be back once he’s done? No one knows. Even Simon and his companions don’t know.
The father with his sick child, along with the few still waiting for healing, hang around for the rest of that day. Jesus is nowhere to be seen. Simon and his companions, feeling sorry for this man and his child, went hunting for Jesus. But they didn’t come back either.
What now? Jesus is gone. Late that night word comes back—Jesus wasn’t returning to Capernaum. He’s gone on to other towns in Galilee, proclaiming his message there also. He’s saying that’s what he came out to do.
What about my child? the man asks. Jesus was the only hope this sick little one had! Doesn’t he care? He healed so many others, why not my child? What do I do now? If only I had pushed my way forward. If only I had called out. If only I had done something. Something. If only. . .
Can you imagine the despair this man and his child must have felt? Can you imagine being so desperate, and so close to Jesus—the next one in line—when Jesus decides to leave? How would that be for you?
Have you ever Have you been in an overwhelming situation and felt that Jesus has left you? Have you ever seen everyone else in front of you being blessed, happy, and content? Have you ever experienced God working in everyone else’s life but yours? Have you ever asked why Jesus has abandoned you and left you on your own? And the best reason he gives is that he’s gone somewhere else to proclaim his message, because that’s what he came out to do. Not much consolation, is it? What do you do at those times?
When we feel that Jesus has left us to fend for ourselves, we have a couple of choices. 1) we can continue wondering, probably with some resentment and mistrust, thinking that Jesus has left us. And if he doesn’t come back and fix this, then he’s not the Lord we thought he was.
Or, 2) we can listen to those who trust that Jesus is in our lives and in the world—even if we don’t understand or agree. We can listen to those who remind us he has promised never to leave us, never to abandon us, sent us the Holy Spirit as our comforter. Since God so often works in ways we can’t understand, in the midst of our pain and loss, can we rely on those who believe Jesus is still saving us in ways we may not see—ways bigger than our understanding?
That’s when the presence of the church becomes life-giving. When I can’t trust the saving, healing, forgiving presence of Jesus, you can. I’ve experienced this church in that way. You have believed for me. You have trusted for me. When I couldn’t get there, you have carried me to where Jesus is.
We do that for each other—we do that for the world. When others can’t believe in this God of goodness and hope and life, we can love them with the love of Jesus. When others are overwhelmed with their pain and feel God has abandoned them, we stand in the presence of God with them. When others can’t understand how Jesus could let the horrible-ness of this world happen, we reveal that God is trustworthy. When others cry out, “Jesus, you aren’t the Lord we thought you were,” we cry with them, “Thanks be to God! He is not just the Lord we think he is. He is the Lord who is saving all creation—halleluiah!”
I like to imagine this man and his child back in Capernaum sitting alone on the front lawn of Simon’s mother-in-law’s house. And I imagine the community gathering around them. And those who have experienced healing by Jesus are offering assurance that Jesus isn’t done yet. I imagine them holding on to one another, and those who trust—who believe—are comforting this man and his child, telling them that in Jesus there’s much more to come. We will be with you, they are saying. The goodness of God has come, they are saying; that is what Jesus came out to do.
Today, some of us are the man and his child, feeling lost, alone. Others are those who are healed, in a place of trust and confidence in Jesus. It may be different tomorrow. But today, join hands, silently pray for the person on your right, then the one on your left. If you’re one who can’t pray today, know those on either side pray for you. For that is what we came out to do.