Week 4: Mark 1:29-39
The agent of time has often been used to tie stories together. Three stories are knit together by time (as soon as they left the synagogue, v. 29; that evening, v. 32; and, in the morning v. 35). Mark uses this tool of writing to unite these oral stories of Jesus and add movement.
In the first story, the setting is Simon and Andrew’s home in Capernaum. This city located on the Northwest side of the Sea of Galilee became the epicenter of Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee region. Due to its location on the Sea of Galilee (a fresh water lake 13 miles in length and 8 miles in width. It is about 140 feet at its deepest point), a core occupation is fishing. The city is large enough, according to the Gospels to be the location for a tax office and a high position holder for the king lived there and was a major benefactor for the synagogue.
In leaving the synagogue, Jesus and his followers walked to the home of Simon, who was married, where his mother-in-law was suffering with a fever. According to tradition, Simon Peter later became the first bishop of Rome or the Pope. In this healing story, Jesus does not speak a word to the woman nor offer a prayer. He simply takes her hand and helps her to stand. Immediately, the fever leaves and she serves them. While this could sound like a self-serving and sexist story, faith in Jesus is expressed in Mark by ACTION. The four fishermen left their nets and vocation to learn from and to follow Jesus. Simon’s mother-in-law served which was her action of faith. There are many ways to express faith in Christ through actions of love and service.
While the first disciples left their boat and nets to follow Jesus, it is apparent that Simon and Andrew did not completely leave family behind. At least in this instance, they stopped at home because Jesus was told of Simon’s mother-in-law’s illness. Unlike some of the later stories in Mark, Jesus has no religious adversaries present to challenge him for performing a work or a healing on the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3). Instead, this story tells of the compassion of Jesus in response to a need for healing.
The second account is a summary at the end of Sabbath as the sun had gone down (sundown marks the beginning of a new day in the Jewish calendar). Mark loves to exaggerate to emphasize the rapid and large response of the people to Jesus. “All” who were sick were brought to Jesus. The “whole city” had gathered around Simon and Andrew’s door. There was a strong response in Capernaum to the ministry of Jesus. Even the demon possessed were set free.
It is interesting to note in the stories about Jesus encounter with demon possessed individuals in Mark, they often know who Jesus is even if the people around them have little clue. It is on their lips that insightful identification of Jesus is made. As a result, Jesus binds the demons so that they cannot speak. He also liberates the possessed person by casting the demons out.
The third story happens the next morning before the break of day when Jesus escapes to a deserted place to pray. Driven by God and his mission, Jesus seeks out time alone with God to refocus, refresh and be renewed in prayer. This early reference to the prayer life of Jesus tells us of the importance of communion with God in the midst of the demands of ministry. Even Jesus needed time apart with God. The other reference to Jesus praying by himself in Mark happens on the eve before his death in the Garden of Gethsemane (14:32-42). Simply because there are only two references to Jesus individual prayer in Mark does not imply that this was not a daily practice in Jesus life. Even Jesus, the Son of God, needed to be connected in heart and mind with God to do what he was sent to accomplish.
The clamor for ministry is never far away! When you show the love of Jesus and lives are impacted by God through you (yes, you!), do not be surprised that the respite is brief before others seek out your listening and caring ear. There in the predawn moments of the day, after withdrawing to be alone with God in prayer, comes the sound of rustling feet and the urgent call from Simon and friends. Again in Markan fashion, “everyone” is looking for you, they said. The time for prayer and meditation was over for the moment.
What are other indications of Jesus’ life of prayer in Mark’s Gospel? There are two reported theophany’s where God was revealed: the baptism of Jesus (1:10) and his transfiguration (9:2-8). At his baptism, there is the voice from heaven claiming Jesus as God’s beloved Son as well as the descending Spirit flying down like a dove out of the heavens which were now ripped wide open. This is a Trinity moment: the voice of God; Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Luke’s Gospel adds that Jesus was praying when all of this occurred (3:21-22). A theophany is way more visual and experiential than prayer.
At the transfiguration, Jesus is momentarily changed in some way and his clothes became “dazzling white.” The voice from heaven speaks similar words spoken at his baptism and there is a Moses (the liberator from slavery and the law giver) and Elijah (the great prophet of the Old Testament) sighting. This is the stuff that is legendary. How can Peter, James and John express what happened up on the mountain to the other disciples?
Another example of the prayer life of Jesus in Mark happens when Jesus and his three followers who joined him on the mountain rejoin the other nine. These disciples have run into a snag and cannot help a father whose son has a demon. In this lengthy story, Jesus casts the demon out but when asked by his disciples why they could not cast this demon out, Jesus said that it required much prayer (9:29). Jesus was a man of prayer.
Jesus came to proclaim the good news of the emergence of the kingdom of God in word and action. This is why Jesus came (1:38-39). He needed to spread the word and respond to the needs of people (casting out demons) in other neighboring villages in Galilee. Finally, the synagogue was a house of prayer and study of the Hebrew Scriptures.
While I learned to pray from my parents and prayer has been an important and intimate part of Jody and my marriage, there was something special about my prayer-based relationship with Pastor Bill Vaswig. Bill was a very influential and effective preacher and evangelical leader in the Lutheran Church in Greater Los Angeles. Due to a major crisis in the life of one of his children who was home alone during a major earthquake, Bill and his wife sought out the healing ministry of an Episcopal priest’s wife named Agnes Sanford.
The impact of God’s healing power through Agnes Sanford on Bill’s son’s life was life changing in many ways. When Bill suffered a major heart attack in short order and the doctor insisted that he leave parish ministry for the sake of his health, it was Bill’s relationship with Agnes that led him into launching a prayer and healing ministry. Such a move by an ordained Lutheran pastor was unheard of in the 1970’s. Bill was an entrepreneur and God used him to teach and minister in amazing ways on the West coast.
I can honestly say that up until this point, Bill has been my last significant mentor. We first met in early 2000. Our lives wove together quickly as I loved both the Spirit so alive in Bill as well as his humble and quirky ways. For example, in relaxed and casual conversation, Bill loved to slip in a few of his well-used spoonerisms: it’s time to shake a tower (take a shower) or, bo to ged (go to bed).
Bill taught me simple, direct prayers about small things that matter to me for which I had not ever prayed. For example, misplacing my car keys. Bill would pray: “Lord, you know that I have an appointment in an hour. I have lost my keys. Show me where my keys are Lord. Amen. I have come to find these simple prayers very helpful. God is way more eager to help than I have been to ask for God’s assistance.
Another gift I received from Bill when I stayed at his home outside Seattle was his morning devotional life. Everything in Bill’s life is neat, clean and organized. It is evident from his immaculate car when he picks me up at the airport; to his spaciously decorated spotless condo; to his well-manicured appearance. Neatly stacked on his end table alongside his couch is his Bible and three of his devotional books he is currently using. Important thoughts are underlined and questions or ideas are smartly written in the margins.
In the hour before breakfast, Bill invites me to join him in prayer, Bible reading, followed by thoughtfully read sections from each of his devotional books. Time is spent in silent reflection and meditation followed by conversation and observations from the readings. This is an amazing rich, spiritual time for me. Since Bill died, I miss these times together the most. It was a spiritual oasis for me. Why do I allow myself to run at such a ragged pace and often fail to practice the gift of prayer and meditation that Bill showed me.
- What do you learn about Jesus from these stories?
- When you are at your best, what does your prayer life look like?
- Who has been a mentor to you in your spiritual life? What did you learn from them?
- What would you like to learn about prayer and practicing the presence of God? Who will you seek out to learn from? When will you reach out?