Last week, we heard how Jesus was in a synagogue and healed a man with an unclean spirit. Dianne spoke beautifully about mental illness and what that unclean spirit might have been. We don’t know exactly, but this week, it is very specific. A fever. This probably wasn’t a fever like you might have with a cold or the flu. The fact that they told this story meant it was significant. The word for ‘fever; came from a word meaning ‘to light or to burn.’ In those days,
there was no Tylenol, aspirins, or antibiotics to fight infections, and a fever could easily lead to death. They thought a fever was a demonic force, which is why Mark says, “It left her,” like it was a person deciding to leave.
Jesus healed a man in the synagogue, who struggled with something not physical. Something that was mental, emotional or spiritual. Something you couldn’t get your hands on. And then he left the synagogue and went to (Simon) Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law who was very sick with a physical disease.
These stories show that Jesus is concerned about, and has power over the whole person: everything we deal with, spiritual and physical. He wants us to be whole. He healed people from whatever stopped them from experiencing the fullness of life.
If you want to stretch it a little bit, you might think What are the negative forces that bother us today? Mental and physical, emotional, or relational. Jesus cares about all of it, and he wants us to be as whole and healthy as we can be.
Jesus would be concerned with all of it, not just problems we think are ‘worthy of his attention.
The individual person, and their specific problem, always came first. You’ll notice he healed on the Sabbath. First, a man in the synagogue, and then he went right over to heal someone else as soon as he heard that she needed him. And that woman rose up, it says, ‘and immediately started to serve him.’ When I read that, I picture my grandmother serving tea and coffee cake to company, but that’s not all the word meant.
Diakonein means both ‘to serve at table’ and ‘to serve in ministry.’ It is the word for deacon. A deacon serves. Originally, deacons were the ones who collected the food and clothing brought during the Offering at service, and they distributed them to the poor. We serve like Jesus did, taking care of people, especially the poor. Sometimes, what is needed is food, blankets and a warm place to sleep. Sometimes it is listening to a friend over a cup of coffee or a glass of beer or serving at coffee hour. It is both. Service takes whatever form is needed. Jesus spent the day in ministry, healing those in front of him, and as soon as Peters’ mother in law was healed, she immediately got up and began doing the same thing. She was the first deacon.
The disciples didn’t get it. Later, Mark tells the story of how James and John wanted everyone to think they were the greatest, and asked Jesus if they could sit at his right and left hand when he came back to rule the world. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you will be the servant of all.” He showed it again to Peter that when he washed their feet at the Last Supper. He had to teach the disciples the same lesson over and over again, but the mother-in-law got it on the first try.
Another good story within a story is that Jesus kept putting people first, time and time again, and eventually, he got overwhelmed. He needed to replenish himself. He healed both the man in the synagogue, and Peter’s mother in law on the Sabbath when you weren’t supposed to be working. Then Mark says, “That evening at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed by demons, and the whole city was gathered around the door.” Everyone else who was trying to keep the Sabbath waited until sundown, the minute it ended, then rushed their sick over to Peter’s house. Jesus took time with each of them, but then, early in the morning, while it was still dark, he went out to a deserted place to pray.
He needed time by himself. He needed to re-center, to replenish himself, to re-focus on what was most important, and to pray. Sometimes we may wonder how effective prayer is, is it really worth doing? Does it make any difference? Jesus had healed all these people, and now he needed to spend time talking to God. He needed to invest in that relationship. He wasn’t performing a task, he was spending time in relationship with the God who was his focus, his life, the God he loved.
Peter tried to talk him out of it. It says they ‘hunted’ for him (some Bible say ‘looked’) for him, but the word had a very strong, almost hostile tone, like ‘they hunted for him to bring him back to his senses.” There is more to be done. More people are at the door asking for you. Come back, do your job.”
But Jesus said, “We’re heading out to neighboring towns, so that I can proclaim my message there, because that’s what I came to do.” After spending time with God, he was clear. He knew what he needed to do, even though it was not what his friends wanted him to do.
When he was overwhelmed, he took the time he needed to come to clarity, to hear the voice within, and to follow it.
That’s something that we’re called to as much as Jesus. It is very easy to lose focus and become overwhelmed with the events of the day, or of the world. Thomas Merton was a monk who was a great thinker and writer. He wrote:
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence…and that is activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.
The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fullness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom…
Jesus is concerned with the health: body, minds, attitudes, and relationships, of every individual person, including you. We all serve, and help bring others to fuller states of health or happiness, but our all over health matters just as much. Take the time you need to reconnect with your inner resources, God, however you imagine God to be. Take the time you need to keep yourself happy and healthy, focused on what matters, God centered, and whole. Amen.