Thought for the day
Which of us is not in need of some kind of healing? The healing touch of Jesus reaches out to all in need: the physically ill, the mentally disturbed, the addicts, the bereaved, the lonely, the distraught, the stressed, the sinners. He desires our well-being, that we might be fully alive and experience life in abundance.
I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Mark 1:29 Now as soon as they left the synagogue, they entered Simon and Andrew’s house, with James and John. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was lying down, sick with a fever, so they spoke to Jesus at once about her. 31 He came and raised her up by gently taking her hand. Then the fever left her and she began to serve them. 32 When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered by the door. 34 So he healed many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. But he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
Mark 1:35 Then Jesus got up early in the morning when it was still very dark, departed, and went out to a deserted place, and there he spent time in prayer. 36 Simon and his companions searched for him. 37 When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 He replied, “Let us go elsewhere, into the surrounding villages, so that I can preach there too. For that is what I came out here to do.” 39 So he went into all of Galilee preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Although short, there are four moments in these eleven verses from Mark 1: (a) a miracle, (b) cures and exorcisms in general, (c) Jesus at prayer and (d) a very brief summary statement at the end.
Kind of writing
(a) The miracle story is unusual. Usually, such stories have five steps: the sick person’s need, the encounter with Jesus, the request, the healing moment in word and/or gesture, the evidence of the cure. Our story is missing the request and the word. Verse 31b, which might seem a little hard on the woman just up from her sick bed, is proof that the cure was fully effective. The stripping away of incidental details serves to profile the power of Jesus.
(b) That power is equally at work in this general scene. Illnesses of all kinds were attributed to evil spirits (compare “So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them.” [Matthew 4:24]). Forbidding the demons to speak is a feature of the narrative of Mark (those from the world of the spirit reminds the readers of who Jesus really is) and of the theology of Mark (the theme of the Messianic secret).
(c) The prayer scene is a typical vignette or chreia, showing some essential characteristic of the protagonist’s life. The previous day had sparked enthusiasm for Jesus. The source of his readiness is revealed as prayer.
(d) Finally, Mark has dotted his account with summary and transition passages and this is one example.
Old Testament background
There is no very specific OT reference here. Galilee is mentioned fairly frequently (Josh 12:23; 20:7; 21:32; 1Kings 9:11; 2Kings 15:29; 1Chr 6:76; Is 9:1; Tob 1:2, 5; Judith 1:8; 15:5; 1Mac 5:14-15, 17, 20-21, 23, 55; 10:30; 11:63; 12:47, 49). At the time, it was rural and Aramaic-speaking. Considerable Hellenisation is evidenced in the cities, largely avoided by Jesus.
New Testament foreground
Diseases and sicknesses are features of the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels (e.g. Mark 1:32, 34; 2:17; 3:10; 4:29; 5:29, 34; 6:5, 13, 55-56).
Jesus is shown at prayer three times in this gospel and there is a teaching about prayer as well. (Mark 1:35; 6:46; 9:29; 11:17, 24-25; 12:40; 13:18; 14:32, 35, 38-39). The Baptism, the Transfiguration, the Lord’s Supper and the crucifixion are also examples without the word “prayer” being used.
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. (1 Thessalonians 1:2–10)
Verse 29 Andrew is not so important in this Gospel, though he does turn up again at 13:3. The trio of Simon, James and John recurs with some frequency (Mark 1:29; 5:37; 9:2; 13:3; 14:33).
On an archeological note, a house has been traditionally identified as that of Peter in Capernaum. It could well be historical, given the antiquity of the tradition. In the Byzantine period, it was converted into an octagonal shrine. A raised church with a glass floor stands over it now.
Verse 30 Simon Peter was married, as is confirmed in Paul: Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? (1Corinthians 9:5)
Verse 31 This is the moment of encounter and of the effectiveness of the cure. The language used—raised—is the same as for the resurrection. This is a hint, from Mark to the reader, that the miracles point beyond themselves to Jesus’ saving death and resurrection.
Verse 32 Typically, Mark gives a double indication of time (evening, sundown). It is permissible to carry people to Jesus because the Sabbath ended at sunset.
In the culture, you could almost translate, the sick, that is, those possessed by demons. Of course, they are not identical but any illness was an experience of evil / demonic power and so some degree that is true always.
Verse 33 The gathering is quite graphic: no room even around the doorway.
Verse 34 According to the scholarly theory of the Messianic Secret, Jesus’ own historical reticence about his identity was elevated by Mark into a strong feature of his story to help readers at the time of writing to understand how it was that most of Jesus’ contemporaries did not recognise him. The same topic comes up for extensive reflection in Romans 9-11.
Verse 35 Notice again the double marking of time. Jesus own prayer during the ministry is incidentally reported in Mark 6: “After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:46) Jesus at prayer underlines his humanity—like us he needed to pray to God.
Verse 36 Hunt is quite a strong verb, meaning to look for something diligently or even aggressively. In Greek, it is somewhat hostile, suggesting that even those nearest wouldn’t leave him alone.
Verse 37 A generalised statement of the excitement generated. In any case, they are searching for him.
Verse 38 The expression translated as “proclaim the message” is a single word in Greek, “to herald”. It is a technical term for the effective proclamation of Jesus, and it is regularly associated with conversion and gospel (Mark 1:4, 7, 14, 38-39, 45; 3:14; 5:20; 6:12; 7:36; 13:10; 14:9). The noun kerygma with it associated adjective kerygmatic comes from it. A keryx was a herald.
Jesus, whom they have disturbed, is nevertheless willing listen to their need and to respond accordingly.
Verse 39 Notice again the little slip their synagogues, revealing the context of the emerging parting of the ways between the parent religion and Christianity.
Pointers for prayer
1. The first story (vv. 29-31) is one of healing. You might reflect on times when you were sick in body, mind or spirit and someone was a ‘Jesus person’ to you, someone who ‘took you by the hand and lifted you up’. Remember them with gratitude. Have there been times also when you did this for others?
2. The second story (vv. 32-34) adds another dimension. People are freed from demons. Have you had the experience of being freed from demons that imprisoned you: fear, anxiety, guilt, low self-esteem, addictions, bitterness, etc.? What was it like for you to get that freedom? Who were the ‘Jesus people’ who helped to free you?
3. The third story (vv. 35-39) has a number of different elements we can consider:
a) Jesus goes off to a desert place to pray. After a hectic day he felt the need for quiet to ground himself once more. In the busyness of life how do you keep in touch with what is going on inside yourself? How do you keep in touch with God? Where do you find your ‘deserted place’? What difference does it make for you when you do succeed in taking time out?
b) Jesus shows himself as a person seeking to break new ground. The disciples want him to continue ministry where he is. He wants to move on. What has been your experience of breaking new ground, moving beyond your comfort zone, or trying something you had not tried before? When has this had a life-giving effect for you?
Out of your power and compassion, O God, you sent your Son into our afflicted world to proclaim the day of salvation.
Heal the broken-hearted; bind up our wounds, bring us health of body and spirit and raise to us to new life in your service.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen