The gospel passage this morning pictures a typical day in the life and ministry of Jesus, as he travels on the dusty roads of Galilee bringing healing, hope, and truth, presenting a Kingdom of God with power and authority. Where dos this power come from, and what is the secret of Jesus ministry?
We know that Jesus is empowered by the Holy Spirit as the Rabbi sent from God, but we also see another side of Jesus, the human side. After a very busy day beginning at Simon’s (Peter) home, to heal Simon’s mother-in-law. The fever left her, and she begins to serve Jesus and his small group of disciples. At evening time, at sundown, the people of the area brought their sick and those possessed by demons, and he healed them. He cured many who were sick with various diseases and would not let the evil spirits talk.
Early in the morning, as was his custom throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus goes to a deserted place, an isolated place to pray and to spend time with God. In multiple places in Mark, we are told that Jesus does his best to get away and be alone with God in some place where he will not be interrupted. The text indicates he was there for a long time. His disciples had to go find him.
We can see a struggle in Jesus vocation between tranquil prayer and activity. Mark indicates that prayer is central to who Jesus is. When the disciples realized that he was gone, they pursued him. The Greek word for pursued, katadioka, is a strong word, carrying a hostile intent. The disciples “hunted him down”. When they found Jesus, they were a little reluctant: “Everyone is searching for you”. Jesus responded with these words: “Let us go on to neighboring towns, so that I may declare the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” So, he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons”. (Mark 1:29-39)
What I glean from this passage today is the tension that seems to exist between the ministry of healing, preaching, evangelism and outreach. Was Jesus a healer or a preacher? Should we emphasize the caring ministries? Should we emphasize spiritual formation and prayer? Or, should we put all or our efforts into outreach? This story shows us that Jesus held these things in tension. Effective ministry does not choose one over the other. Jesus healed many. He prayed. But, he also preached or taught the good news of the kingdom of God. His healings and exorcisms supported his teaching and preaching.
Preaching, teaching and healing are always connected to Jesus ministry. We can also see a schedule that Jesus follows in this passage that is often referred to as the first day of Jesus ministry. He comes out of the wilderness in a time of soul searching and fasting. His friend and cousin, John the Baptist, has been put to death, and Jesus sees this as the time to begin his ministry. And, he seems to do so in a relaxed and unhurried way. He never seems rushed, even though his schedule is plenty busy. He takes time to reach out to individuals and to speak to crowds of all sizes.
When I read scripture, I like to see something I haven’t seen before, to read the passage like I have never read it before. One of the things I can see in this passage is how the ordinary ways of life become extraordinary when Jesus enters the picture. The ordinary people, and how they are living in their ordinary lives and their ordinary daily routines become attracted to this Jesus that is walking and talking to them, along the road, in the synagogues, and in places of rest.
We can also see a liturgical form that Jesus follows daily. I’m sure there are variations to each day, but from this passage and from several other passages in Mark we see this pattern. Late at night, or in the early hours before sunrise Jesus finds a deserted place to pray, to spend time in meditation, communion and fellowship with His Father. This time of communion in prayer gives him focus for the entire day. I see Jesus as a contemplative, a man that not only prayers in the morning, but lives a life of prayer throughout the day. In the early morning hours, he not only sees a need to get away from the crowds, but also from his closest disciples.
The disciples had to hunt for him and seek him out. There is tension in their quest, and they appear to be “put out” with Jesus. “Everyone is searching for you”. “You did not bother to tell us where you were going either”. Jesus seems unfazed by their impatience and says: “Let us go to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I came to do”. And, he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
You can pick up the pattern of ministry in this passage if you look for it. If there was a synagogue in the town, he went in the mornings and taught in the synagogues. He preached the kingdom of God, healed people, cast out demons and met people one on one or in small or large groups for teaching purposes. In the evening the people from the surrounding areas would bring their sick to Jesus and he would heal them. He would retreat to a quiet place with his disciples to get rest, but in the early morning hours he would once more seek out a deserted place for personal prayer and contemplation. This was his liturgy, the work pattern, and lifestyle that he felt called to undertake, i.e.…his liturgical rule of life.
How can we use this teaching to affect the way we live our lives, the way we approach ministry and how we use interruptions, people that distract us with their problems or their timing? If you notice in this passage, Jesus never seems to be in a hurry, and he never seems to be “put-out” if he is interrupted in his journey. We can all take away something from this teaching. I know I can. I have often felt frustrated when coming to the office in the morning, and the first thing I encounter is someone waiting for me to come in so they can talk, and some mornings, it goes like that until 1 PM when I break for lunch. And, sometimes people have a serious need, and the 1 PM lunch break does not seem to be a barrier to them.
In the evening I go home and Naomi asks how my day went. I’ve been doing this for a long time and am learning how to deal with interruptions better than I use to. An interruption can also be an opportunity for ministry. I remember coming home some evenings so frustrated and tell Naomi that I did not get anything done that day. All I did was talk and pray with people. She reminds me that that is what I am called to do. And, it is.
Perhaps I need to spend more time in the early hours of the day (or other parts of the day) in prayer and communion with God. And, maybe to admit that in the middle of my plans, allow room for the Holy Spirit to do Her thing, which may or may not be coherent with my way of doing things.
The Reverend Dr. David L. Madsen