Today’s passage from Isaiah offers us a litany of the wondrous, universal attributes of God:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has is not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing” (v. 21-23).
What a contrast with our passage from Mark’s first chapter with its focus on the particularity of Jesus’ early ministry of proclaiming and healing. In our gospel passages for this week and last, we see the lengths which Jesus will go to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. He preached in the synagogue, cured demoniacs, healed the sick, and went from town to town to spread the message and power of God’s love and forgiveness.
We see in the personal and intimate story of Peter’s mother-in-law how the good news of God’s reign has to do with restoration of those who are ill or oppressed to a full role in their communities, everything to do with raising up a people to serve each other.
Mark says, “the whole city was gathered,” trusting that Jesus will heal and restore them to wholeness. The word for that saving action is “salvation.” Jesus heals and restores countless people in the gospels, setting them free from illness and possession to be the people God created them to be.
It’s important to recognize that Mark doesn’t mention that Jesus tested people to see whether they accepted or rejected his message. There were people in the synagogues to whom his message was good news. They were in need of healing and they sought him out. And Jesus offered them all that he had to give.
Jesus also recognized his own need and slipped off in the morning to a deserted place to pray. We see his familiar pattern of seeking a quiet place for not only rest but guidance for what to do next. Strengthened by prayer, Jesus understood with clarity his mission to reach out to other communities to proclaim the good news and to heal and set free all who recognized their need and would come to him.
We see one of the main themes of the gospels in today’s passage from Mark. Jesus frees us not only from the things that seek to oppress us, but also frees us for a life of purpose, meaning and good works. Good works, not those things we do in the hope of justifying ourselves before God and others, but rather those things we do in response to God’s saving grace in our lives, reaching out in love to serve our neighbors.
We see this truth in today’s gospel reading when Peter’s mother-in-law is restored to her community. It may trouble us, with our modern sensibilities, that the moment she is restored she gets up to serve Jesus and his male disciples. But as commentator Sarah Heinrich wrote several years ago:
“(In those days) illness bore a heavy social cost: not only would a person be unable to earn a living or contribute to the well-being of a household, but their ability to take a proper role in the community, to be honored as a valuable member of a household, town or village, would be taken from them.
Peter’s mother-in-law is an excellent case in point. It was her calling and her honor to show hospitality to guests in her home. Cut off from that role by illness kept her from doing that which integrated her into her social world. It’s very important to see that healing is about restoration to community and restoration of a calling or role as a restoration to life. For life without community is bleak indeed.”
I suspect that Peter’s mother-in-law recognized that she wasn’t only freed from something, but also freed for something, for a life of grace and generous service to others. Perhaps that’s the take-home message for us this morning. In Christ, we are being freed from those things that are holding us back from becoming all that God created us, hopes and dreams for us to be. Fred Buechner put it this way, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincide.”
Each time you respond to the needs of others in your life, you are living into your God-given freedom and vocation that is yours in Jesus Christ. So, in his name, I ask you, what do you believe you are being freed for? What kind of service is calling out to you? Who or what needs your attention this week? Attention that only you can give?
I invite you to consider and claim your calling and role in this beloved community we call the “Church of the Resurrection” on this journey of becoming all that God calls us to be. Amen.
Resources: David Lose, 2015; Synthesis, 2015; Sarah Heinrich, Working Preacher, 2012; Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, 1973.