Updated: Feb 3
After Jesus and his disciples 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.
This is the Gospel selection from the Episcopal lectionary for the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B. It will next be read aloud in church by a priest on Sunday, February 4, 2018. It will be read along with Isaiah 40:21-31, which includes the verse, “[The LORD] gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” It will also be read with 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, which says, “[My reward is] that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.” Thus, this reading from Mark is important as it tells of the powers the Holy Spirit gave Jesus and how that attracted large crowds. It also denounces the concept of a megachurch, because Jesus went throughout Galilee purifying the Jews, not settling into one synagogue.
Because typical Western Christians are prone to think in Western ways, it becomes easy for one to read “left the synagogue” and imagine oneself leaving a Christian church. Likewise, one can read “Sabbath” and think Sunday, not Saturday. This is because Christians have no firm grasp on what it means to be a Jew. Thus, the concept of preparing for the Sabbath on Friday and not traveling more than 0.596 miles (or 112 feet from the city limits) between 6:00 PM Friday and 6:00 PM Saturday does not compute with the typical Christian brain.
The first verses of this reading speak details without directly stating them. When we read, “After Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue,” that says Jesus and his disciple left the synagogue in Capernaum, where Jesus taught and cast out a demon. The time of their departure would have been around noon (mid-day), because a typical service on the Sabbath is between 9:00 AM and noon.
When we read, “Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever,” that means Simon Peter was married, and had children most likely. His mother-in-law and wife did not attend the synagogue due to the illness and the mother-in-law would have needed someone there tending to her needs. Therefore, we can see how “they (the disciples and Jesus) entered the house of Simon and Andrew” specifically because of the mother-in-law’s physical state of being. Simon, Andrew, James and John (of Zebedee) would have led Jesus there.
Once they were in the home, “they told him about her at once,” where “they” means her attendants. That could means Andrew’s wife also lived in the home, along with his children. The size of the house would indicate how many within a family could live. As fishermen, the house was probably close to the sea, with some building by which to preserve fish. All of this possibility reveals a real-life view that can come from the simplicity of Simon Peter’s remembrances, as told to his writer companion, Mark.
In the miracle of Jesus healing the mother-in-law from her fever, we read that Jesus, “came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.” On a mundane level, that says Jesus gave the woman the strength to get up out of bed,” where the Greek word “ēgeiren” means, “he raised up” or “he awoke” or “he aroused.” However, on the spiritual level that word tells us the woman was near death, such that Jesus awakened her from the fever, which was sending her into the sleep of death.
I have written about the parables of Jesus, where sleep is metaphor for death. When Jesus was told to come quick because Lazarus was near death, Jesus said not to worry. He said, “Lazarus was only sleeping,” in the sense that death symbolizes the transition of a soul from one physical life into another, like one goes from one day’s activity in life to another, following a period of sleep. Jesus told his disciples (and others) to stay vigilant, alert, and awake, to avoid the mortal death that leads to reincarnation. It is the soul that is to receive that instruction to stay awake and not slumber in sin. As such, when Jesus took the hand of the mother-in-law, he then “lifted her up” so her soul returned, alive and awake in her body.
Maybe it is just me, but when I read, “she began to serve them,” my brain thinks this means the woman got up, thanked Jesus, and began to make them some ‘after synagogue lunch’. When I was growing up, Sunday supper was after morning church, before going back to evening church (I was not raised Catholic or Episcopalian). However, Friday is the day of preparation for Jews, where is cooked then. Only reheating food is allowed (no new fires or boiling) on a Sabbath; so the highest intent of that statement says the mother-in-law did not serve them food. She had been healed of a near-death fever by God, so she would not do any forbidden work on the day God commanded all should rest.
The Greek word that has been translated as “to serve” is “diēkonei.” The root verb to that is “diakoneó,” which means, “I wait at table (particularly of a slave who waits on guests); I serve (generally).” (Strong’s Concordance) Because one understands the woman got out of her sick bed on the day of rest, we can discount the mundane meaning above and look to the general as the primary intent. That intent can be explained as this: “Caring for the needs of others as the Lord guides in an active, practical way.” (HELPS Word-studies)
In other words, “she contributed support” – to Jesus and to her son-in-law and his brother, and to all the disciples who followed Jesus. For her “to serve,” she had been touched by Jesus and had been filled with the Holy Spirit, knowing the hand of God had just held her hand, raising her from near death. After an experience like that, one does not just get up and start acting like a waitress waiting tables. One serves the LORD.
It is most important to see this affect that touch had. Jesus often touched, or was touched, but many times no contact was made for people to be healed. Jesus touched with his words vibrating on the bodies of the faithful, such that his disciples felt the power of the Holy Spirit surrounding him. That charisma he possessed made them willingly serve his needs. The same power was then given by God, through the Holy Spirit, to the Apostles; but the missed element of this transfer of the Holy Spirit is that it went immediately to all those whom Jesus miraculously healed and cured.
One example was the lame beggar at the Temple gate, who o n a Sabbath held out his hand to Peter and John (of Zebedee) for alms. We are told Peter said to the man, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene– walk!” (Acts 3:6) The man walked without assistance of any kind mentioned. Jesus Christ had been reborn into Peter, allowing Peter – “in the name of Jesus Christ” – to heal as Jesus the Nazarene had.
In the reading that continues, “Evening” is a statement that the Sabbath had ended. The Jewish clock recognizes twelve hours of “Day,” which begins at 6:00 AM and ends at 6:00 PM. The twelve hours of “Night” is then divided into four “watches,” with the Evening watch beginning at 6:00 PM and lasting until 9:00 PM. Because there is still daylight after 6:00 PM, during the spring and summer months, the statement “at sundown” says that darkness came during the Evening watch period. That would indicate a winter time period, such that “the whole city was gathered around the door” in darkness, meaning there was still plenty of time left before the people would head home, prior to the Midnight watch (9:00 PM to Midnight).
In the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany reading from Mark, Jesus cured a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue. That was healing on the Sabbath, which the Pharisees said was against the Law. Jesus then cured Simon’s mother-in-law on a Sabbath too. Many of Jesus’ healings were on the Sabbath, which angered the scribes and Pharisees, especially when Jesus told them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:8) However, at “evening, at sundown,” on the first day of the week (our Sunday) the people of Capernaum were not making Jesus violate any Jewish laws. Their coming then meant he would be asked to work on the day of rest.
One has to now see the mirror image of Simon’s mother-in-law beginning her “service” to the Lord on a Sabbath, leading to Jesus serving the LORD in the wee evening hours of the first day of the week (a Christian Sunday). For Jesus to individually meet the “whole city [that] was gathered around the door” of Simon’s house, everyone who lived there served the needs of Jesus. At dark, the disciples would have lit torches for light, formed lines and ushered people to Jesus, much like the organization seen at an Oral Roberts tent revival meeting, especially at the end when the healing service is conducted (mimicry is the greatest flattery, but please do not see that comparison as a statement of piety in Oral Roberts). Such a gathering, where Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons,” required devoted followers to assist the needs of a most holy Prophet.
When we read that Jesus cast out demons from those of Capernaum, this can be read as a reflection of the one who stood up in the synagogue, who had an unclean spirit possessing him. One has to understand that “the whole of the city” means the Jewish portion, where all were within the .596 mile walking limit allowed on a Sabbath. Realizing that Capernaum also had a Gentile presence, under Roman domination, the Jews had their own “city limits” within that city. Thus, to read, “[Jesus] would not permit the demons to speak, because “they knew him,” they “knew him to be the Christ,” as only Jews would know and believe.
Unlike the confrontation that had occurred in the synagogue, the Jews who willingly went to Jesus felt the guilt of their demons within; and thus they offered no resistance to Jesus, due to his offering to baptize them with the Holy Spirit (as John the baptizer foretold). Jesus would not allow those demons to take control of their host soul’s body and argue or plead to remain. Once freed of their demonic spirit possession, the Jews of Capernaum were touched by the Christ. Just as Simon’s mother-in-law can be seen as filled with the Holy Spirit and given into service of the Lord, those healed in Capernaum were likewise filled. An evil spirit had been replaced with a love of God.
Those who were cured of illness and had evil demons removed were then followers of Jesus the Nazarene. That base of believers and disciples would make the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee a place where Jesus could safely go and find solitude. Even though his followers would continue to increased, to the point of making “alone time” difficult to find, the ones Jesus touched in his three-year ministry would assist the Apostles in the spread of Christianity later.
We are given a sense of this need for Jesus to spend time in prayer when we read, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” According to Jewish Law, each Jew is committed to three periods of prayer each day: one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening.
The morning prayer is called the Shacharit, which usually takes half an hour’s time. Each Jew is expected to recite a series of prayers and Psalms, specified in steps (5). A prayer book is followed in a Jewish prayer service; and it is most probable that Jesus had everything down to memory. However, remembering how the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (the source of The Lord’s Prayer), it may be that Jesus sent more personal prayers to his Father (from his heart, not his brain). In any regard, this element of Jesus going in the morning to pray alone says Jesus was devout in his compliance to God’s Law, based on an inner love and not an external demand.
The element “in the morning, while it was still very dark,” is another statement that says (without saying directly), “wintertime,” more than fall time. This is because 6:00 AM ends the Morning watch (3:00 AM to 6:00 AM), with it officially being daytime as six. Because it was “very dark,” there still had been no peek of the sun on the horizon. The hours of daylight are greatly reduced during the winter (less than twelve hours of sunlight), so sunrise then would come significantly after 6:00 AM and sunset would be prior to 6:00 PM (in the Northern Hemisphere, relative to Galilee).
In the dark of morning, Jesus could move to a place of solitude without being noticed, thus he was free to pray and not have someone approach him about anything. We see this even meant his disciples, as “Simon and his companions hunted for him” (the Greek word “katediōxen” also means “followed after”). One can assume that the family in Simon’s house held their own Shacharit prayer service in the house, since it was still dark and they needed lamps to recite from a prayer book, so they let Jesus be alone for his prayers. While “hunted” makes it seem the disciples did not know where Jesus was exactly, “following” him means they knew the general area where to go looking for him.
When they found Jesus, they exclaimed, “Everyone is searching for you,” which could means the disciples first went to the synagogue for the prayer service there (morning prayer); but it still leans one towards seeing how the Jews (disciples included) had become trained to seek leaders that could make decisions for them. The Jews of Capernaum knew the thoughts of their evil demons, which knew Jesus was the Christ (the Holy One of God), so they rejoiced at the thought that God had sent His Messiah to Capernaum. “Everyone” there sought Jesus so he could tell them what to do, like Elijah and John the Baptist. Still, not only were the common Jews of Capernaum looking for Jesus, so too were the rabbis, scribes and Pharisees there, There certainly was good reason, as well as bad, that Jesus was sought out.
When Jesus heard the word “everyone,” regardless if the intent from the disciples being the people of Capernaum, when Jesus replied, “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,” he knew “everyone” meant all Jews.
His message was “the kingdom of God has come near,” and that was what all the descendants of the children of Israel sought. Thus, Jesus was saying his synagogue was to be all synagogues – beginning with those in the neighboring towns of Galilee. As winter had set in and the spring festivals (Passover and Shavuot) were still months away, it was divine wisdom (resulting from prayer) that told Jesus to expand his base then.
Hopefully, I have made this relatively short reading from Mark’s Gospel come to life, in terms that make it easy to see how real the memories of Simon Peter were. They come from one who was raised with faith in God and belief in the laws that had been taught to him. Before Jesus entered the lives of his disciples and began speaking the truth and casting out demons, the Jews had a firm foundation about what was expected of a priest of God. They just did not know how to apply that learning, which was stored in their big brains.
The same can be said of most devoted Christians today. They go to church and listen to the readings and sermons. They know some things, but not enough to teach the meaning of those things. Therefore, they seek leaders who are external to them, who knowledge they revere; but few seek the complete wisdom of God within.
Jesus took the devotion his followers had to God and lit the flame of love for God in their hearts, while removing all the worldly excuses that justified sin as inevitable. Jesus found “everyone” Jewish was seeking someone to give their devotion purpose, such that Jesus was the answer to the ritual prayers of all Jews.
As a personal Epiphany lesson, it is most important to see how Christianity has also become diseased and filled with unclean spirits. It is possessed with the same thought that some external power will come to save us from the sins we hate committing, but have no will to resist. Christianity is running a fever that is in need of the healing touch of Jesus. Being close to death means one without the Holy Spirit will die and be reborn as a wandering soul, brought back in a new human body, just as mortal as the one before. The symbolism of Jesus taking one’s hand is then the entrance of the Holy Spirit within, so we rise and awaken to a new name – Jesus Christ.
Jesus could have fallen in love with the adoration that Capernaum was willing to give. He could have become like a Rick Warren, or like a Joel Osteen, a Joyce Meyer, or any number of the “get rich in Jesus’ name” pretenders. Jesus could have made that synagogue in Capernaum his megachurch. But, he did not.
Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan. You serve only God.” (Luke 4:8)
Jesus could have hired workers to transport large tents, with thousands of folding chair and tons of sawdust, and gone from town to town having Judaism revival meetings. Of course, he would have had to hire advertisers to run ahead and pass out flyers and paste up posters: “Jesus the Miracle Worker Coming, in Person!” Jesus could have healed for free, but then passed around the offering plate (or many), while workers suggested ‘love gifts’ for his services. Yet, Jesus did not do that.
Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan. You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (Matthew 16:23)
Jesus affected people on a spiritual level. Yet, throughout his three years of ministry, he never once made alligator tears roll down his cheeks, saying how much money he needed to keep his ministry alive. He never once cried about how much it costs to pay the bills for a megachurch or pay television cameramen and cosmetics applicators. Jesus, above all, never told anyone to worship him, and not God. We are only to worship God.
Jesus went on the road preaching his message on hillsides, in synagogues, and on the steps of the Temple of Jerusalem (Herod’s Temple), and he healed people miraculously along the way. Jesus had his followers, along with twelve volunteers who were the deacons of the first Church of Christ, to help his mundane needs be met. Jesus never planned or plotted his moves by using his brain to justify his actions. Everything Jesus did was from faith and the love of the Father he was born with.
The Epiphany has to be that each individual must find the need to pray to God for guidance. Each individual must look for the answers to prayers coming in signs. Each individual must see the need to spread the message that the kingdom of God has come near – in oneself – because God has blessed one with the birth of His Son Jesus within. Each individual must see that selfishness is an unclean spirit that whispers to one, “I know the Christ’s business and you are not worthy of that title. Why not do nothing and let someone else be Jesus?” That demon cannot speak. It must come out.
The Epiphany has to be oneself going to Jesus at sunset, in the winter of one’s discontent with life, when one’s darkness is most felt. One has to realize one is tired of being controlled by evils and the diseases of sin, seeking salvation. A personal Epiphany is then believing, “That I may proclaim the message … for that is what I have been reborn to do.”