Sunday, 7 February 2021- Year B
We know that we are called to the imitation of Christ. Not only is modeling Christ Jesus part of our mission statement, but Ephesians 5:1 tells us to imitate God. This imitation happens through, and only through, the help of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is gifted to us, yet many of us struggle with the modeling we are called to for the sake of the world.
In today's gospel, Jesus does something that most of us would find nearly impossible. On his first day in ministry, he calls disciples, he teaches in the synagogue, he heals a man possessed by demons, and then he heals Simon's mother-in-law. That's a pretty full day.
When that day ends, word has circulated quickly enough that people are crowded up to the door of Simon's house with their own sick and demon-possessed people.
Sidebar: what's the difference between sickness and demon-possession in Mark? It is likely that what people called demon-possession in Jesus' day were illnesses that seemed to have no external cause. Epilepsy, strokes, or even something like heart palpitations, alongside mental illnesses, would have seemed out of the blue and certainly caused by evil forces. Sicknesses that came from bad food, skin diseases, or the sanitation issues of the time might have seemed more self-evident, requiring basic healing as opposed to an exorcism. This is the end of the sidebar.
Back to Simon's house, after the Sabbath has ended, the crowd is gathered with their sick and their demon-possessed. Jesus heals many of them. Many, but not all? Why doesn't Jesus heal them all?
Jesus is capable of healing them all, but some people do not want to be well. I don't mean that in the sense that they would prefer to malinger and drag out their suffering and gain attention for it. I mean that some people have struggled for so long that they feel unable to imagine a life of wellness, a healed existence. It seems likely to me that there were probably those among the crowd who wandered up themselves or who were dragged by family members but had no interest in what Jesus offered. They didn't think it would work or they numbly submitted to healing prayers, but immediately dismissed the possibility of such efforts working.
I am not saying that people don't get well in that time or in our own because they don't want to, even though that can happen. I am saying that Jesus offered a powerful gift of healing for them and, for whatever reason, they were unable to receive the gift. They were not more powerful than God, nor were their illnesses or nor the demons that possessed them. They had simply stopped believing anything could change and therefore nothing did. How often have you been in that situation? Believing that what exists simply is and nothing can be done about it. These simple sentences remind us that no one's suffering, pain, or possession is God's will, but suffering continues when we refuse to believe that healing, that wholeness, that a different way of being is possible.
So, what is it that Jesus does that would seem impossible for us? It's not the healing. We are entirely equipped to be part of how God brings healing, including through exorcisms, in the world. What we would find difficult is something else.
After the full evening of healing people, Jesus appears to have slept and then awoken early to go and pray. Simon and the others hunt for Jesus. Though in English, our translations say they looked for him, the Greek implies that they hunted him down. He went to get away and they pursued him.
Why would they do this?
The night before, they get their first taste of Jesus-mania. Everyone wants to come to see Jesus and they are known as Jesus-adjacent. Perhaps they can trade their closeness to Jesus for favors, for funds, for fame. With stars in their eyes, they hunt Jesus down so he can come back and keep doing these miraculous things, acts with the potential to change the lives of these fishermen.
But Jesus didn't come for fame and fortune. He hasn't called the disciples so that they can be his managers and his entourage.
Here we see the contrast between how regular humans act and how Jesus acts.
Jesus tells the disciples that it is time to leave Capernaum and to go to other villages. He wishes to go and carry his message, and his healing powers, elsewhere.
You can easily imagine Simon and the others spluttering, "But, but, but... we have it good here. People will come to us. You don't need to travel, Master. Let's set up here. There's a crowd up at the house and Mom is feeding them. You don't want to disappoint them, Jesus."
But Jesus is not focused on human disappointment. Then, as now, disappointment with Jesus doesn't come because Jesus fails, but because our expectations for Jesus are misplaced.
Unlike most of us, Jesus can see the desires of the world, the desire to be liked or loved, the desire to be influential, the desire to be surrounded by people who admire you... Jesus can see all these things and turn away from them to do what God wills.
God's will was not to make Capernaum into a destination city. "Come see the MIRACLE WORKER! Step right this way! See demons cast out before your very eyes! Just 1 shekel! Half-price for kids."
God's will was (and is) for Jesus' power- his teachings, his healings, his provisions- to be spread throughout the region and the world. Jesus can reject what the world offers for the sake of God's desire, God's will, God's expectations.
I cannot imagine how disappointed Simon and the others must have been to go back to the house, gather up their things, and tell the crowds, "He already left." The dreams of their own glory were fading before their eyes and as the gospel goes on, we see they didn't let go of those dreams so easily.
Jesus moved on, not staying where the story would become just about him. He kept traveling to spread the gospel, the good news, of God-with-us, of the nearness of the kingdom to as many people and as many kinds of people as possible in the time he had.
This brings us to what it means to model Christ Jesus. Are our actions oriented toward getting the most likes, being the most known, having the most glory? Do we make choices based on what is popular with our family or our friends or in our community? Are we willing to set those things aside if it means being more aligned with what God wants?
This is a fine line to travel because it is easy for us to embrace an unpopular opinion and say, "Well, even Jesus couldn't please everyone." Modeling Christ Jesus, though, never calls for taking the devil's advocate stance. It calls for carefully reflecting on our choices, our words, and our actions. Is what we are doing, or leaving undone, part of God's will for the world? Does it bring healing, wholeness, or hope? Does it reveal and support the growth of the Spirit's fruits- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control? If not, perhaps it is a behavior or a habit that needs to be exorcised, cast out, for the sake of modeling our Savior?
Also, what do we expect of Jesus? Are we like Simon and the others, hoping for glory on the Savior's coattails? Or do we trust that Jesus has already exceeded anything we could expect of a Savior- an inseparable connection with God, amazing grace, the sending of the Holy Spirit? What are our ongoing expectations of our Lord in light of what He has already done?
As we go forth today, may God help each of us to live in and for Jesus, even more fully. May our faith in Jesus be increased such that we do not live for our own glory, but for His. And may we seek every opportunity to model His love in a world that needs to know such compassion, such mercy, and such peace.