Scots Church Adelaide
Balancing Act

Bible Reading Mark 1:29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, 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. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

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, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.' He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.' And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons

When we read this little snippet from Mark, we hit one of the problems with lectionaries. The snippet is not free standing. It relates to other parts of the gospel. It is part of a daylong story, and the first day of Jesus' ministry. It begins at the synagogue.

Mark 1:21-28 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.' But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!' And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching-with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.' At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Only then does this Sunday's reading begin: As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Our little snippet is part of a larger story, the story of the first day of ministry. I know the snippet is technically called a pericope, but I'm using the word snippet to highlight what we can miss when we concentrate on just a.... well, snippet!

Bill Loader says of this first day, you could surmise that Mark is making a point here by having the kingdom start at home. I like the point, but don't quite agree. Rather, you could surmise Mark is making a point here by having the kingdom start at "church" and at home. Both places are important. To coin a cliché, "church does not just happen on Sundays." And home, to use another cliché, is the "proof of the pudding." There are, I suspect, few privately spiritual Christians at home who go out into the world and are found to be spiritual frauds. We know that many publicly spiritual persons prove to have a different life at "home!"

There is an interesting balance in the two snippets which make up this first day. One is public and spectacular. The other, private and apparently far less spectacular, is also deeply of the kingdom. The word for "lifting up," used of Jesus healing action, is also the word used for resurrection. Some bibles, eg the NASB translate this as "Jesus "raised her up," perhaps implying something of resurrection.

We usually read that the fever "left her." I am told there is the sense of being released in the Greek word here. The same Greek word is often used for the forgiveness of sins. Petty wonders how much Mark's message here is that the antidote for demons and disease is resurrection and forgiveness? There is no doubt the story is not an insignificant domestic interlude one would leave out in a "Readers Digest Condensed New Testament."

In a man's world, Jesus immediately comes home and heals a woman. This is radical. I really like Bill Loader's comment here. I've often felt drawing the connection between the woman "serving" them and being a deacon of the church, the Greek word is the same, is a bit forced. Bill says

this was a world in which in men's stories women are mostly invisible if they are not either a source of trouble or delight. Here is an exception. Even if unnamed, we have a woman. She matters. Jesus cares about her. He heals her. Her temperature drops. She serves them. Let us not romanticise Mark. He is a man of his time as are those who passed on to him the story. The woman remains unnamed. She is healed to do what women stereotypically did: look after the men. It is spinning a yarn to make too much out of the word, ‘serve', here, as if she is the first deacon. We can espouse such values without fiddling the text.

The remainder of the 24 hours has another balance besides synagogue:home, and male:female. There is the movement of action:prayer. In some views of prayer it might even be action:reflection.

It's an intriguing few words.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.' He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.' And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons .

The One who heals and serves retains a certain independence from the needs of the world. He sets his own agenda. Clergy can certainly take a lesson here. The demands of a parish always outstrip the time and energy available. But it is no less true for any of us. What dictates whether we will be on time for work, or stop to help the old man half lying in the gutter? Will we go out to that important church meeting and leave our spouse to deal with an upset child, or stay at home? I suspect Jesus might not be so worried about our decision, as about our decision making process. Are we at prayer sometimes or are we all action and no reflection?

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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