Fifth Sunday After The Epiphany
Mark 1:29-39 (NRSV)Epiphany according to Merriam-Webster has a number of meanings. There is the very specific meaning within the church's liturgical year: "January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ."
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 sundown, 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 neighboring 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.
There is the meaning in a more general sense: "an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being."
And finally, in the most general sense:
"a (1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking
(3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
b : a revealing scene or moment."
One of the things that appeals to me about the Gospel stories is that they are quite down to earth. In this reading, we can imagine the dusty feet of the Jesus and his disciples as they left the synagogue (Mark 1:21-28) and walked over to Simon and Andrew's home (1:29). In the USA, we are used to our space but in the Ancient Middle East, multi-generational homes were typical. We feel people bumping into each other. And Jesus enters the home and heals Simon's mother-in-law! Upon the healing, we can hear the buzz of excited conversations. The mood is celebratory. One wonders, what was Mrs. Simon Peter like? How excited was she at this miraculous healing of her mom? Did they have any children at this point in their lives? Upon being healed, Mrs. Simon Peter's mother began to "serve them." I would surmise that meant cooking! What was on the menu? The aromas of food fills the air!
As we sit here in 21st Century life, how do people see Jesus in us? How can they have an epiphany?
At one level, of course, how we as individuals live our lives in specific one-on-one interactions with people can reveal Jesus. But equally important, how we "do life together" as communities of faith can reveal Jesus. John 13:35 says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Often times people "belong" before they "believe."
When we gather, there should be the warm glow of good conversation, the taste of delicious food, the comfort of a shoulder to cry on, and the hearty cheer of shared joys. And while this is happening, we invite others who do not know Jesus yet, to join in the fellowship.
In the passage, what happens next is "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."
Christians throughout the generations since Jesus have been committed to healing. That is what Jesus did and that is what Christians have been doing even to this day. In most cities in the USA are hospitals founded by Christians. In the many developing countries some of the best care can be found in Christian missionary hospitals. These are not the work of solo individuals. These are the good works of communities of faithful followers of Jesus!
Pope Francis a couple of years ago said, “I can clearly see that what the Church needs today is the ability to heal wounds and warm the hearts of faithful, it needs to be by their side. I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It’s pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed. The rest we can talk about later. Now we must think about treating those wounds. And we need to start from the bottom.”
The church must be a community of good fellowship and of good works.
The Christian life is lived in community. Yet, there is also a place for solitude. Jesus is recorded here, "In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed."
Each of us is different. Some of us need solitude more than others. But for even the most extrovert, there is definitely a place and a need for time alone in prayer. We don't need to be legalistic about it. There should not be any hard and fast rule as to how much time we allot for solitary prayer, Scripture reading, private meditation, and personal reflection. Simply we enjoy our time with God when alone as we also enjoy our time with God when with others.
Words and deeds
Peter and his companions looked for Jesus and the time of solitude concluded and Jesus said, Let us go on to the neighboring 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.
Words and deeds. That is what Jesus did. Words and deeds that pointed people to God and moved them from being under the power of forces that destroyed into the hands of the King who gives life. We should do the same as his disciples, as learners of Jesus, as followers of Jesus, we should do the same.