Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany:
Summary of the Text
“Immediacy” defines the Gospel of Mark’s rendition of Jesus’ ministry. Its fast pace reads like a comic strip of heroic proportions. Before one miraculous event is over another one is formulating in the clouds of Mark’s print. The Greek word euthus “immediately, at once” is used almost incessantly as the author’s cue for action. Nine times in the first chapter alone; this word is the director’s call for a new scene.
The exorcism of a possessed man in the synagogue of Capernaum sets the backdrop for today’s text. In Mark 1:21-28, Jesus casts the demon from the synagogue-goer while simultaneously silencing this demonic presence from calling attention to Jesus’ identity. He does this while at “church.” It is a strange but exhilarating experience for these synagogue goers. Surprisingly, it will be one of the few times the Gospel writers relate a healing by Jesus on the Sabbath that does not entail a heated confrontation between Jesus and the the keepers of the law over his impropriety in doing “work” on the holiest day of the week. In this instance, though, the miraculous deed alone impresses a village as to the power that Jesus possesses with no objection to the time of its occurrence. It will spur the eyewitnesses of the event to immediately pour out of the pews and spread Jesus’ fame throughout the region of Galilee.
Mark swiftly moves his listeners from the euthus (immediate) spread of Jesus’ fame at this single event to his euthus (immediate) departure from the public forum of the synagogue into the intimacy of the private space of Simon’s nearby home. Four significant events occur in this week’s text. First, Jesus is implored by Simon Peter, Andrew and others to attend to Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who has been laid up by a fever. Jesus touches her, raises her by the hand and the fever leaves her. She then begins to wait upon the crew.
Second, by night-fall, the morning synagogue-goers have sufficiently spread the word of Jesus’ miraculous healing and Peter’s home is inundated with a crowd of the physically and spiritually sick, desirous of Jesus’ healing touch. Third, presumably, after a harrowing number of hours of healing work and perhaps less than a commensurate number of hours of restful recuperation, if any, Jesus departs for a solitary place to pray. His time alone is cut short by the disciples because of the increasing multitude that seek him.
Fourth, Jesus capitulates to the abrupt end to his period of needed isolation, not because of the crowd or disciples who seek him, but because the compelling immediacy of his mission to preach his particular message. This time, Mark does not use the word euthus, but allows Jesus’ own words to cue the next scene in Mark 1:38. Jesus says, “Let us go allaxou [elsewhere] on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.”
The preacher may note several distinct aspects of this “spotlight” on a day and night in the life of Jesus’ preaching ministry in Galilee. It is accompanied by powerful and timely action, it is personal in nature, and it is decisively swift. These may seem inconsequential to some “greater” hidden truth that may be gleaned from the text for this morning, but there is something wistfully appealing in these aspects of Jesus’ ministry for those of us who preach.
Proclamation of good news, of truth, always comes with deeds of justice and mercy. How often have we heard a good word made meaningless without an accompanying good deed? Micah, the 8th century Hebrew prophet declares, “He has shown you what is good and what the Lord requires of you, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8), actionable versus actionless words. James 1:15 & 16 decry those who would speak only words, “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?”
The Gospel of Matthew ascribes to Jesus’ Galilean ministry the fulfillment of Isaiah 58, “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily…if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted.” Jesus does just that. He does not simply preach good news, but he enacts good news; not tomorrow, not in some hopeful future, but today! His authoritative teaching in the synagogue turns to authoritative action when he casts out the demon and heals the throng outside of Peter’s door. Powerful and timely, but also personal.
There is an intimacy in Jesus’ healing, to his response to personal appeal, such as to Peter in his imploring Jesus to heal his mother-in-law. This personal approach and touch of Jesus will manifest throughout the gospels as Jesus touches the skin of the leper, the “ritually” unclean, the eyes of the blind, and in a similar fashion to his healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, takes Jairus’s daughter by the hand in Mark 5 saying to this lifeless child, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Jesus’ ministry will be personal and will be swift.
The journey of this Galilean miracle worker will be a steep climb, whose peak will come quickly and fall will bring with it a seismic shift of the globe. We are accustomed to ministries that are on a slow burn over years and decades. Jesus’ fame will be like that of a one hit wonder, overnight, meteoric, but with a reverberative effect that will eternally endure.
How often have we met peddlers of the Gospel who do it injustice by proclaiming good news while doing anything but good, who steel themselves away in academic retreat houses, public platforms, and hide behind pretense to keep the throng at an impersonal arm’s length, who are quick to be silent and slow to respond? Jesus is far from any of these things and thus, we should be also.
Jesus fulfills his mission from Mark 1:14, that the “kingdom of God is at hand” by enacting not only the words but the works of the kingdom. Mark’s stress on the swift and immediate flow of Jesus’ Galilean ministry in chapter one reflects the “nearness” and “immediacy” of the kingdom. The remainder of Mark’s Gospel uses the word euthus more sparingly, but his near overuse to this point has set the scene for his readers of the the impending Kingdom of God ushered in by Jesus.
I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions
Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness. HarperOne.
Comment: Jesus came preaching that the kingdom of God was at hand. He proclaimed good news: eloquent words, truthful words, convicting words; words that were backed up by a display of deeds in full agreement with his words. The same God of Genesis one, who speaks creation into being, is manifest in Jesus whose word is his deed and whose deed is his word.
A Missionary’s Influence
R.W. DeHann wrote of a missionary who, shortly after arriving on the field, was speaking for the first time to a group of villagers. He was trying to present the gospel to them. He began by describing Jesus, referring to him as a man who was compassionate and kind, loving, caring, one who went about doing good works towards all men.
When he was speaking, he noticed that his lesson brought smiles of familiarity to the faces of his audience, and some of them nodded their heads to one another in agreement. He was somewhat puzzled, and he interrupted his message to ask: “Do you know who I’m talking about?” One of the villagers quickly responded: “Yes, we do. You’re talking about a man who used to come here.” Eagerly they told about a missionary doctor who came to their remote village to minister to their physical needs, and his life was so like Christ in caring for those people that they saw Jesus in him. He walked like Jesus walked.
Are you living in Christ? If you’re resting in Jesus Christ, if you’ve found him to be the source of every spiritual blessing, you’re trusting in him for salvation; you’re fellowshipping with him in grace; then your whole life will have been changed. You see, everyone who is united with Christ expresses that union with Christ by living like Christ, by walking as he walked.
Additional Sermon Resources
Call to Worship
Adapted from Isaiah 40:28-31
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but 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. Come let us worship the Lord!
Prayer of Confession
Father God, we confess that the actions of our hands do not often match the words of our mouths. We say one thing and do another. We give you praise and curse a friend, we sing songs of thanksgiving and gossip about another. Our actions belie the words that we speak and for this we repent. We would desire to act and speak in a way that glorifies you. We would desire that the meditations of our hearts and words of our mouths would be a reflection of our deeds of love, justice, and grace. Forgive us, we pray, for those words and deeds that have grieved your heart.
Assurance of Pardon
Adapted from Isaiah 6:7
Hear now, O Church, who stand in the gap for the world as representatives of God. We have been made clean. As the angel of the Lord touched the unclean lips of Isaiah and made the man whole in word and deed, readying him to do his will, he has done the same for us by the cleansing touch of his Son, Jesus Christ. In him, the disparity between our word and deed is made right. In him, our unkindness in action and in word has been forgiven. Go now in the purity of the King to speak the Gospel through actions of justice, mercy, grace, and love.
From Jude 1:24-25
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen