She Began to Serve

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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

Let us celebrate service today, but not as another call to do more, to give more, to work harder or to fill our overburdened schedules with work. Yes, there is always a call to more service. But instead, let’s celebrate service by saying “thank you.”

We rush from the first exorcism in the previous text to the first healing in this text. Does it seem to anyone else that Mark is trying to fill out Jesus’ resume in this first chapter? Heaven is torn apart at his baptism, and the world is turned upside down from that moment on. Nothing is safe, nothing is sacred, nothing is untouched. Except that everything is sacred and everything is touched. And safe isn’t on the agenda of this Messiah on the run.

Everything is sacred because there isn’t anywhere he is unwilling to go. He dives into the depths of the broken and the possessed. He meets those out of control of their own lives, perhaps because of personal choices, perhaps through no fault of their own. What the community considered unclean, Jesus finds pulsing with the presence of the holy. What society stands apart from, Jesus challenges with healing.

Notice the difference between the exorcism in the previous text and the healing in this one. There are some maladies that require confrontation and some that need kindness and the human touch. The key, of course, is knowing which is which.

We know nothing about the people involved in this event. The four new disciples, remember the other names – Philip and Bartholomew – came from John. According to Mark, we’re just in the beginning stages and the twelve are not yet twelve, but four. So, after the exorcism in the synagogue, Simon invites them home, ostensibly to figure out what might be next for this new mission team. As they enter the house, something reminds Simon about his mother-in-law’s condition. Maybe he says, “Glad you’re here, Jesus, please keep it down, my MIL is sick.” There is no asking here, no plea of faith. Mark simply says they told him about her. The next thing you know, Jesus is marching down the hallway into the mother-in-law’s room and takes her by the hand and lifts her up.

Think about that for a moment. Sure, we had that confrontation in the synagogue and the compelling call from the fishing boats. But nothing to this point suggests such a power. What did they think as Jesus strides off to find the fevered woman and pulls her to her feet? Need we be reminded about all the taboos, contact between men and women, laws of hospitality between guest and host, being in the present of the sick, too many to mention. Yet, there he goes without so much as a word.

And the healing is also silent. No “your sins are forgiven” or “your faith has made you well.” He just grabs her hand and yanks her to her feet. Eyes were popping and necks were cracking all over the house. Except mom. Mark, in what will become his familiar spare prose, describes the only proper response to a miracle such as this: “and she began to serve them.”

What did she do? It isn’t specified. Who was included? Everyone. Notice that she served them. Not just him. When we are blessed, then the blessing spills out on those around us. We don’t just bask in the healing, in the blessing. We get to work. Let’s be clear, however, she wasn’t paying a debt. She wasn’t earning the gift. She was responding to the blessing. All our work, all our service is in response to what has already been given.

From that small domestic scene, we move back into the wild world surrounding them. Word got out, hope stirred many feet, so they beat a path to his door. Mark implies that the healings and the exorcisms continued into the night. These first two opened the floodgates, and Jesus’ fame spread.

Then we have a little leadership message slipped into the story. Jesus worked long into the night, healing all who came. But then, early in the morning, he slipped away, to pray, to breathe, to connect with the source of his strength. He was gone long enough to cause concern, as they went hunting for him. He took the time he needed. He kept his priorities, even in the face of the demands on him that continued. “Everyone is searching for you,” the disciples told him when they found him. Everyone - the crowd, the hungry, needy, demanding crowd - is searching for you.

Why did he leave? It doesn’t feel right, to leave behind those who were searching, those who were hurting. But he moves on—not to avoid responsibility since he healed and taught and exorcised there too. He keeps focused on the mission, even when it seems a bit harsh. It was his service to cover more ground in the limited amount of time.

See, some would have us stay in one place and focus on those who were already there, those on the inside. Some argue that our emphasis ought to be on the ones who belong, who have already come. Yet, Jesus says, “I have to go to those who haven’t yet heard; I have to continue to move out, go further, speak to more.”

What about those who are already in? Don’t we care about them? To put it in terms of a parable from Matthew and Luke, but not by Mark, what about the ninety-nine? Don’t they matter? Of course they do. But they have the community around them. They have the experience of Jesus that they can share with one another. They can build on the knowledge that they already have.

And we who carry the name of Jesus before us, must, like him, carry it out to those who haven’t yet heard֫—those who don’t yet know him. We are making disciples, even as we are being made disciples. That is our service. Like Simon’s mother-in-law, we don’t just serve him; we serve them. All of them. Any of them. We serve them.

In This Series...

Epiphany/Baptism of the Lord, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Transfiguration Sunday, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes