Four scenes, two settings.
The two settings? Simon’s home and a deserted place. The four scenes? Healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, scene one. The whole city clamoring at the door, scene two. Jesus praying alone, scene three. Jesus’ prayer time interrupted by Simon and his companion who’ve come to let Jesus know everyone wants him, scene four. If I were to make a film of this week’s Gospel lesson I could choose several different directions. I could go with an emphasis on scene one and call it, “Healed to Serve” or maybe a more Lifetime network-esque, “Lifted Up by the Hand of Jesus.” I could also go more with scene two and title it, “Banging at the Door for Healing” or “Sundown Miracles.” Or even “Silenced Demons.” Scene three would make for a more indie-type film, lots of close ups of Jesus’ face combined with broad views of desolate land. Let’s call this story “No River Runs Through It” or “Dark and Deserted.” Finally, scene four, “Hunted while Praying” or “Everyone is Searching for You” or “Mission Possible.”
The influence of the Hollywood awards season aside, the back and forth between intimate and public, solitude and chaos, private time and corporate need, makes for dramatic tension in these verses. Jesus seems to seek seclusion and prayer only to be chased and hunted by those desperate for his healing power. He silences the demons because they know who he is; regardless, the crowds keep coming having heard of his power. Nothing will quiet the fervor of those once sick and suffering now made whole. Once Jesus begins to fulfill his mission there is no turning back the tidal wave of humanity longing for the presence of God.
The tie that binds these two settings and four scenes together is the mission, Jesus’ mission, to proclaim the message and cast out demons and bring healing. Suffering exists in Simon’s household and throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. Deserted places and crowded cities yearn to hear God’s good news. Preaching and healing cannot be extricated from prayer. Jesus’ mission keeps him ever moving, leaving those who long to have him stay, sending him to those who wish him dead. Jesus’ message compels him to find a refuge for prayer and motivates him to get up and go to Galilee. No matter the setting, no matter the scene, Jesus will do what he has come to earth to do: proclaim the message, cast out demons, ease suffering, and defeat sin as disciples then and now scramble to pay attention and keep up.
Mark’s Gospel has a breathlessness to it — one scene quickly fades into another and another. The reader, the disciple, must keep alert and watching because if we succumb to any distraction, we might lose Jesus and have to go hunting for him. Like Simon and his companion, we wake up and discover Jesus isn’t where we left him, or where we thought he’d be and we must go out into the darkness to find him. Seems like a pretty good metaphor for faith, doesn’t it? We need Jesus. There are countless others who need Jesus, too, some of them are asking us where he is, and we have no idea. Suffering abounds, the needs are overwhelming, and Jesus is not in the house. Jesus refuses to stay put. We cannot contain him. He is on a mission. A mission from God, no less, and all we can do is find him and follow.
We must look in deserted places of prayer and tumultuous places filled with demons and disease. We might find him in our house, tending to our mother-in-law or in the streets of neighborhoods where we’ve never been or wanted to go. If we are to find Jesus and follow him, we must share his mission because he will always be found where the message is proclaimed, demons are cast out and wholeness is nurtured. Where there is gospel preaching, Godly teaching and life-affirming healing happening, Jesus will be found even if it isn’t where we thought he would be.
I have heard the gospel preached and Jesus present in strange places by unexpected people. I have been taught Jesus’ new commandment to love one another through strangers. I have seen healing fight its way through deep wounds, leaving visible scars coupled with great joy. When crowds were banging on the door and looking for things I did not have to give, amazingly Jesus appeared and did more than I could ever hope for or imagine. A multitude of settings, a myriad of changing scenes, deserted places, noisy spaces, Jesus fulfilling his mission in them all. I only had to keep hunting for him and follow. At times, I have had to strain in the darkness to see him, but eventually the dawn broke and he was there.
The news as of late has been filled with brutality, cruelty and violence. The serial sexual abuse of young, female gymnasts, the torture of 13 children by their own parents, another school shooting that has left students dead and lives shattered. The crowds are clamoring at the door, crying out for healing and help. Where is Jesus? Does he have the power to cast out these demons? Bring wholeness to this depth of brokenness? Is there a word of good news to be proclaimed to these communities? To ours?
I have been searching for Jesus, looking for gospel mercy and foot-washing love and demon-crushing grace. The before-dawn darkness has made finding our servant Lord difficult, but I see glimpses of our Savior, whispers of his message and hints of his transformative mission at work. I read that thousands (thousands!) of people have called to offer help and support for the 13 Turpin children. The local chamber of commerce has put together a list of items needed, and the response has been overwhelming. They have asked people to stop bringing things and said to please send money instead. So far, $50,000 has been raised. Seeing the list of shoe sizes and clothing needs and the request for art supplies and hygiene items made those children’s suffering gut-wrenchingly tangible. But seeing each item crossed off and the notice that every request had been fulfilled gave me hope that Jesus’ mission, his message, his healing and his casting out of demons would not be thwarted, no matter how deep the darkness or powerful the demons.
There are some scenes in our current setting filled with suffering, sickness and evil spirits, some present in the house next door, others played out in the streets, some private hells and some public tragedies. And if we want to find Jesus, we need to pray and then join him on his mission of preaching, teaching and healing, until the every member of the crowd, every member of every household is made whole and well.
- Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law and she gets up to serve. How has Jesus healed you for you to serve him?
- When have you had to search for Jesus? Where and how did you find him?
- Jesus’ mission requires him to leave those who want him to stay. He is always on the move in Mark’s Gospel. How do we discern when to stay and when to move? When to keep serving in ways we currently serve and when to make a change?
- How do you balance prayer and contemplation with service and action? How are prayer and service connected?
- Imagine each scene in your mind’s eye. What do you notice? Who are you? What is God’s word to you in this passage?
- Pray the headlines this week. Pull up a news website or look at the front page of your local paper. Pray for the people and places you read about there.
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