I’ll begin with a prayer written by Garrett Epp, a member of Knox Metropolitan United Church in Edmonton. This prayer was inspired by Jesus’ prayer and I was reminded of it this week as I was reflecting on the gospel passage for today. As we quiet our minds and open our hearts we pray…
God, who gives birth to the world, who gives us breath
fill us with your light,
and help us to usher in your reign of love,
justice and peace here on earth.
Tune us to the harmony of the heavens;
teach us to sing your name.
Grant us wisdom, hope and compassion
for all living things,
and feed us what we need each day.
Free us from what binds us,
as we release others from guilt and shame.
Help us to focus on what is good,
and to do what is right;
teach us how to love.
Renew our hearts, our minds, our strength,
and make us whole, and wholly yours.
(Gathering, Summer/Autumn 2008, p. 55)
I have a very distinct memory from a time when I was a very young child. I was a happy and active child and I often moved quickly without paying as much attention as I should have to what obstacles or hazards might be in my way. One day, as I was playing in the living room of our home, I was joyfully swinging my body around and my hand, flying through the air, hit against something very hard. At the same time my mother was coming down the stairs into the living room and so I ran over to her crying loudly and holding my hand that was really hurting. My mother immediately sat down so that we were eye level with each other and she took my hurting hand in hers and looking into my eyes spoke reassuringly to me. Then she began to blow gently on my hand and make a waving motion over my hand as she softly told the pain to, “Go away, go away, go away…” I was spellbound by the rhythm of her voice and the gentleness and warmth of her breath soothing the hurt I was feeling. My attention was focussed away from my hurt, to her love and care for me. I felt loved, safe, and valued. She heard my cries of distress, she listened and she responded with her full and loving attention.
When someone stops and listens to us, cares about us enough to give us their undivided attention, we feel valued and cared for. It’s not always possible to take away a person’s pain as easily as my mother took away the pain I was feeling, but somehow it’s always more manageable when we know that we are not alone, that someone loves us and can touch us where we’re hurting.
These elements of immediate compassionate response, loving presence and healing touch are present in today’s story from the Gospel of Mark. As soon as Jesus is aware that he is needed, he responds without hesitation. His attention for that moment is focused entirely on Simon’s mother-in-law who is in bed with a fever. The gospel account tells us that Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up and the fever left her. Her response, to the great power of his healing love, was to follow Jesus’ example of servant ministry by serving Jesus and his disciples. This is the first example we have of a person ministering to Jesus in the gospel accounts. It is important to note that this was not the subservient and common service that was a cultural expectation of women in that time and place. In the original Greek text the verb used for “serve” in today’s text is “diakonein” which is a variation of the same word that is used in a variety of places to describe the servant ministry of early Christian communities. “Diaconein” is also the same verb that is used in Mark 1:13 to describe angels ministering to Jesus during his wilderness experience.
The Gospel of Mark was the first of the gospel accounts to be recorded in writing. Mark’s Gospel is concise and to the point. With an astounding economy of words in the first chapter of his gospel, Mark covers: the proclamation of John the Baptizer; Jesus’ baptism by John; Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (which he records in two sentences); the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean Ministry; the calling of the first disciples; three healing stories; and glimpses into Jesus’ prayer life and the purpose of his ministry. Mark does all of this in only 45 verses.
Mark tells the essence of what he believes his readers need to know about Jesus. Mark wants us to pay attention to Jesus, as God’s beloved, sharing the healing power of God’s love with all he meets.
Jesus consistently provided an example, through his words and actions, of a way of justice and right-relationship that engendered God’s love made known in the world. There was no discrepancy between what he preached and how he acted. His presence was loving, his touch healing and his passion for justice unwavering.
The biblical commentary, Feasting on the Word, makes some interesting observations about our focus text from the gospel of Mark. The commentary notes that the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law happened on the Sabbath (which was forbidden by Jewish religious law) and behind closed doors with a gathered community of Jesus’ disciples. The author likens this gathering to early Christian “house-churches” that met in secret because of religious persecution. The healing aspects of the unity and caring of gathered community is further explored in a quote by Gerald May, who is a medical doctor who practices psychotherapy in Washington, DC. Gerald May writes of the importance of community in the healing process:
“God’s grace through community involves something far greater than other people’s support and perspective. The power of grace is nowhere as brilliant nor as mystical as in communities of faith. Its power includes not just love that comes from people and through people but love that pours forth among people, as if through the very spaces between one person and next. Just to be in such an atmosphere is to be bathed in healing power.”
(Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, pgs. 334-336)
Jesus knew this truth. He knew that the healing power of love could spread like wildfire and create a conversion of the heart that could change the world. This new world order he called the Kingdom of God.
Jesus spent every ounce of his life and energy working to bring about the transformation and healing of people’s individual lives and the life of the wider community. I believe if we, with other communities of faith throughout the world, continue to embrace Christ’s radical vision of an inclusive, caring and healing community, then God’s commonwealth will begin to be realized. Bit by bit, God’s love will be felt like a mother’s warm breath gently blowing across our hurting world. Like Jesus, who reached out with a loving touch to those in need of healing, I pray that we have the courage to reach out to others and in doing so bring God’s commonwealth into being, moment by moment and day by day.
With God’s healing love may it be so.