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.

It’s still light. Still daytime. The sun has not yet set.

Jesus has just been to the synagogue in Capernaum where he taught with authority and then performed his first public acts. He had authority they had never seen before and then to show what that authority looks like in practice he calls an unclean spirit out of a man who was also there with everyone else at worship.

Immediately after…
Mark is so frantic in his telling of the story, but it matters that it’s still the Sabbath.

Immediately after Jesus goes with his brand new disciples, Simon (who is so new he hasn’t even got his new name yet), his brother Andrew, and also James and John, all back to Simon’s house where they discover Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed ill with a fever.

It’s probably important to say a bit about how houses were arranged in Jesus’ time because I think we probably imagine that they are like ours with lots of separate rooms. From childhood now we value our private spaces where we can spend time alone in our room, but life just wasn’t like that in Jesus’ time. People lived in one or two rooms, much like we did until fairly recently in our history. Houses were open plan. That meant privacy as we understand it just didn’t exist. People lived communally. Extended families lived together. If people were rich they might build more homes next door as the family grew, but in the main people lived all together in one place.

That’s has lots of implications, not least the problem of infection control. We have grown very used to the language of self-isolation in order to stop the spread of disease but that wasn’t a practical option in those days. Contagious disease was a huge issue and the only way to do something about it was to banish sick people. They were sent away. And because there were very few effective treatments something like a fever could be, and still is, very, very dangerous.

At once they tell Jesus about her. Again the urgency. At once… But that begs a question… why?
Why do they tell Jesus?
He hasn’t healed anyone who has been sick like this. So what are they asking for?

Again we need to think about what these people believed… and to some extent still believe… about the cause of sickness.

The cause of sickness was sin. People got sick because they had done something wrong. The worse you had sinned the greater the sickness. And if Jesus could rid someone of something like an unclean spirit then he would be able to cure Simon’s mother-in-law because both in their limited understanding were about removing sin.

That’s an idea that Jesus will challenge. For him sin is the stuff we do that damages our relationship with God and therefore limits our lives.

I love the description of how Jesus helps Simon’s mother-in-law. “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

It’s so simple. So stripped back. And yet like everything Mark writes it is so full of meaning.

Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up. And in so many ways that’s exactly what Mark’s gospel is all about. He lifts her up out of the thing that is limiting her life. He renews her. Jesus recreates her.

And people see it happen.

There’s always a sense that everything Jesus does is very public. Jesus is always on show, always in the public eye, always scrutinised by those watching. But this moment reminds us that in every encounter there is a personal Jesus there just for us.

It’s one of the great paradoxes of our faith. We recognise that our faith is found in community, in communion with God and with each other, but at the same time our faith is personal. Personal because our relationship with Jesus is ours… That’s personal… but I’d suggest that our faith is never private.

It doesn’t matter how many others are present, Jesus is there for each person.
And as Simon’s mother reaches out, through the touch of faith she is restored to life.

It quickly becomes obvious the wagging tongues have been busy. The Sabbath is over not when the clock strikes midnight but when the light fades and dusk comes. They have been waiting for the night to come and as the sun sets people start to arrive at the house all looking for Jesus. They want freed from all the pain they have become used to. The pain they have carried for too long.

And Jesus does the same for each of them as he did for Simon’s mother-in-law. He meets their needs. He lifts each one of them up.

The sick are healed and unclean spirits are driven out and silenced. Each person gets what they need from Jesus because to him each of us is somebody precious. Each of us is an individual with our own hope and dreams. Our own problems and issues. Our own joys and sorrows.

We should never presume to know what someone else feels. Even if we wanted to, you couldn’t walk in my shoes and I couldn’t walk in yours. Our experience is unique. It is ours and ours alone. But that never means that we are on our own.

Jesus attends to each of the people gathered there in turn. He treats each of them with compassion and dignity.

But it’s exhausting for Jesus. It takes a toll.

So, early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus gets up and goes to a deserted place to pray, to enjoy the silence away from the clamour and demands of the crowds. Again and again we see Jesus do this. Taking time out to recharge, to reconnect with God. It’s so important for him. I wonder if it is for us?

All of this takes place on the Sabbath and on the day after. The day of rest is followed by the first new day… the day where Jesus will rise from the tomb in the ultimate act of re-creation.

Sabbath is a hugely important idea. It’s not just a day off. It’s not even just a day where we worship God. Sabbath is holy. It’s the day of rest and recovery. Sabbath is a day of re-creation.

It used to be that everything stopped on the Sabbath. No work that wasn’t absolutely essential was done. That was taken to extremes and that’s an argument Jesus will have again and again. Keep the Sabbath holy is one of the commandments. It’s higher up the list than do not kill. I wonder how we managed to loose the sense of the importance of sabbath?

Other things crept in. I’m not at all for chaining up the swings and not letting anyone do anything at all on Sundays, but I do wonder if in our rush for convenience and ever increasing workloads we have been conned into seeing sabbath as a luxury rather than something that is completely fundamental to our wellbeing.

Walter Brueggemann suggest that we should think of Sabbath as an act of resistance. Doing nothing, producing nothing, buying nothing, is so counter-cultural we find it hard to even imagine what that looks like anymore. Practicing sabbath is standing against everything the world tells us is important and choosing instead to focus on what God tells us is important.

When you are training to run rest is included in any good training plan. It’s arguably the most important part. Without it you can’t improve. Without rest you can’t function properly. We all know the difference a good night’s sleep makes.

But the disciples come searching for him. Everyone is looking for you. They want more miracles. They just can’t get enough. Their need is so great. Their burdens are so heavy.

Restored by prayer and communion with God, Jesus is restored. He’s ready for what’s next.

Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns,’ says Jesus’, 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.

I wonder if all that we do is rooted in our connection with God?
If we take the time to pray and to rest in God before we begin any task?

On this last Sunday of Epiphany perhaps this should be our realisation.
The authority Jesus has is God’s.
The strength Jesus has is through God.
The Good News Jesus proclaims is about God.
And all of it is so that we can restore our relationship with God.
So we can be renewed and lifted up into life in all its fullness.

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