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Mark 1:29-39

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Lesson Focus:  Jesus heals us so that we might engage in active and intentional Christian ministry. 

Lesson Outcomes:  Through this lesson students should: 

  1. Comprehend that our healing from sin and death prepares us to engage in Christian ministry.

  2. Examine their lives to see if they are ministering as a result of their healing.

  3. Examine the ministries of our church to see if they are faithful to our mission of bearing witness to the kingdom of God in word and deed.

Catch up on the story: Mark’s narrative is off to a fast start.  He introduces us to John the Baptist, a preacher who begins to prepare the way for Jesus’ coming.  John the Baptist, and the context in which he is set, places the narrative that follows squarely within the scope of Israel’s hope for the future found in the Old Testament.  Jesus, then, is seen as a continuation of what God has been doing for Israel in the past. 

Jesus is baptized at the hands of John. It is his public commissioning. Even though the crowds do not hear the voice of God proclaiming his pleasure with his Son, we, the readers, hear it. There can be no doubt that Mark wants us to understand that Jesus is the divine messiah who has come to set Israel free. Immediately after his baptism Jesus goes off into the wilderness and is tempted by the devil. While the narrative is sparse, Jesus does not succumb to the temptation and emerges from the wilderness to begin his public ministry. Jesus begins to preach about the coming kingdom of God. He also begins to call men to follow him and be his disciples. His mission will consist of preaching and healing. Both of these things he will do, not as the crowds have experienced others doing these things, but as one with authority.

The Text:  The setting of our text for this week is the small city of Capernaum.  Jesus, his followers Simon, Andrew, James and John, have been in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  Jesus has begun to teach and cast out unclean spirits.  Word is beginning to spread about this Jesus fellow.  His authoritative teaching and his works of power begin to be known in the surrounding area.  

Scene #1:  While the passage takes place entirely in Capernaum, there are three distinct scenes.  Scene one is the home of Simon’s mother-in-law.  Jesus and his entourage enter the home and we are immediately told that Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever.  A few things need to be noted here about fevers.  They were not seen as a symptom but a terrible force that could bring about death.  A simple fever could become life-threatening very quickly (Boring, 66).

Simon mentions the ill fortune of his mother-in-law to Jesus upon entering the home. There are a few possible reasons that Simon could have chosen to point out the situation. First, it could have been a veiled attempt to ask Jesus to heal his mother-in-law. Although at this point in the narrative, Jesus has yet to heal anyone. He has cast out an unclean spirit so it might stand to reason that the disciples believe he has the power to heal as well. Second, Simon may have mentioned the fever as a precaution and warning for his guests. Contact with a sick person was frowned upon, not from our normal understanding of contagions, but because it would have made the individual ceremonially unclean, and thus keep the person from full participation in community life. Finally, Simon could have mentioned the fever as an excuse for the lack of hospitality that would normally have been provided by his mother-in-law.

Whatever the reason may have been, Jesus acts immediately and decisively to rectify the situation. Jesus takes the sick woman by the hand and lifted her up. Immediately the fever left her! No words were spoken, no spell was cast; Jesus’ touch was enough to make her instantaneously well. As we have already mentioned, touching a sick person would have made Jesus ceremonially unclean. In the same way, men did not touch women who were not a part of their family. Additionally, Jesus performs this healing on the Sabbath, which could be constituted as work. Thus, Jesus touches an unrelated sick woman and heals her on the Sabbath. In performing this act in the way he did he breaks more than just a few social and religious taboos (Witherington III, 98). Mark, however, does not believe that Jesus is doing anything wrong, but that he is faithfully bringing about God’s kingdom.

Excurses: Sabbath Touching a woman, a sick woman at that could be overlooked.  Working on the Sabbath was a greater offense, one that would land you in serious trouble with the religious authorities.  A proper understanding of Jewish Sabbath theology is important to grasp why Jesus heals on the Sabbath.  For the Jewish people, the Sabbath had become a symbol of rest and peace (shalom -wholeness) that would happen when the messiah finally arrived ushering in the age to come.  Creation, and all its inhabitants, would be relieved of all the turmoil, disease, destruction, and death that existed as a consequence of the fall. This rest and peace were much anticipated and longed for by Israel and her religious leaders. Honoring the Sabbath was a mini-preview of the peace and wholeness that would accompany the coming of God’s dominion. 

Jesus, by beginning his work of healing on the Sabbath, intended it to be seen as the first act in bringing about the end-time Sabbath rest and wholeness here and now. What better way to honor the Sabbath than by offering healing to a woman who was in the midst of suffering? Like the exorcism that took place earlier in the chapter, Jesus’ healing of Simon’s mother-in-law is part of the breaking in of the kingdom of God (Witherington III, 100). Unfortunately, Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath would not be seen this way by the religious leadership.

After Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, she immediately gets up and begins to serve Jesus and his companions. There is no trace of the fever or the malady that might have caused it. The word that Mark uses here for “serve” comes from the word diakonos. In Mark, and the larger Christian tradition, this word, from which we get Deacon, is associated with Christian ministry. Simon’s mother-in-law is healed and immediately sets about serving Jesus and his companions in response to her healing. In many ways, this should be a model for us as we experience Jesus’ healing in our lives. As we are healed, our response should be to rise and engage in Christian ministry!

Scene #2: The word begins to spread quickly of Jesus’ deeds of power.  He has taught with authority.  He has cast out unclean spirits and now he has healed a woman of her fever.  Not only has word spread about his actions, but about his whereabouts as well.  At sundown on the Sabbath people begin bringing their sick and demon-possessed.  They begin to gather at sundown because sundown marks the end of one day and the beginning of another.  This is unlike our conception of time with the beginning of a new day beginning at dawn.  The crowds, now that the Sabbath was over, did not have to fear that they were breaking the Sabbath by bringing their sick to Jesus.  Realistically, some of the sick would need to be carried, constituting work. 

Mark tells us that the whole city comes out to the door of the house where they were staying. It is unlikely that they showed up en masse, but perhaps as a steady stream of those seeking help from Jesus. Regardless, Jesus heals many people with various kinds of diseases and casts out many demons. The demons were instructed not to speak because they knew whom Jesus was. Why would Jesus need to instruct the demons not to speak? It could possibly be that it was not yet the right time for Jesus to proclaim who he was. Or, Jesus may not have wanted the proclamation about who he is coming from the mouths of demons (France, 110). Either way, Jesus shows his power over the demons by not only casting them out but by keeping them from divulging what they know.

Scene #3: We are not told how long into the night Jesus was with the crowd.  It may have been late into the night due to the large crowds.  Mark tells us though, that Jesus gets up early in the morning while it is still dark and sets out to find a place to pray.  He arrives at a deserted place, perhaps one that he had used before.  Soon enough, Simon and the others realize that Jesus is not in the house where they had been staying.  They set out to find him and upon doing so they encourage him to come back into town. 

The reason that Simon and the others use for a return to Capernaum is because everyone is looking for him. Behind this suggestion may be an urge to stay where they are because they have enjoyed success there. Jesus’ reputation is growing among the people. Greatness can be achieved when you have the support of the people. Perhaps Peter is already thinking about the positive political ramifications of a man who has such great power.

Jesus, however, refuses to go back to Capernaum. He tells us that his primary mission is preaching the message of the kingdom of God. Jesus insists that they must go to the neighboring towns (which were not bigger than Capernaum, but smaller) to preach. This is, after all, what he has been sent to do. So, we are told, Jesus heads out throughout the region of Galilee preaching the message of the kingdom of God.

So What? I think two things are important for us as we consider this text.  First, the way Simon’s mother-in-law responds to her healing, and second, Jesus’ laser-like focus on his mission.  

As soon as Simon’s mother-in-law is healed she gets up and serves Jesus and his followers. As we have said above, the Greek word that Mark uses carries with it the sense that as she was caring for Jesus’ needs she was engaging in intentional ministry in service to the kingdom of God. Whether or not she totally understood her actions in that way is, perhaps, inconsequential. For this is how Mark wants us to read her response. Mark has been up front with us, his readers, about who this Jesus really is. He is the divine Son of God. While the characters in the story will need some time to figure this out, Mark’s narrative is largely about helping us to discover what it means to be faithful disciples of Jesus.

Our faithful discipleship begins with our healing. For some, in early Christianity, anything that has enslaved us, any sin, any addiction, was seen as life-sucking fever. “For each and every one of us suffers from fever. When I grow angry, I am feverish. So many vices, so many fevers.”[1] Christ has come, however, and touched our hand, lifting us up and freeing us from our fever. We are never freed just from our fever, though. We are freed so that we might serve. In our healing we are given the immediate opportunity to get up and to serve in Christian ministry. We become more mature disciples of Christ when we are actively and intentionally engaged in serving in some kind of Christian ministry.

Secondly, our passage indicates Jesus’ laser-like focus to his mission. Jesus could have stayed in Capernaum while word of his deeds of power spread throughout the land. No doubt many would have made a pilgrimage to him so that their loved ones might be healed. From this he could have begun to garner great political support as well. Jesus, however, was not tempted by this initial success and the desire to build on it. He knew the plan. The plan was to proclaim the kingdom of God throughout the land.

At times, we are not as laser-like focused on our God given mission as Jesus was. Too often the tendency is to stick with whatever is causing us to have success. In fact, the temptation is to spend a lot of time trying to find that one thing that will bring us successes. It’s not wrong to be successful, but we can be tempted by it to neglect our real mission of bearing witness to the kingdom of God in word and in deed.

Critical Discussion Questions:

  1. How does this text reveal to us the nature and character of God/What is God doing in this text?

  2. God is beginning to bring about the pace and rest that we long for.  Through healing and exorcisms, Jesus is, in a small way at first, allowing creation to rest. He is granting us freedom from the various things that plague us.  

  3. What does holiness/salvation look like in this text?

  4. Our growth as disciples is contingent upon our response to the healing we have received at the hands of Jesus.  Like Simon’s mother-in-law, we are to rise from our infirmities so that we might begin to engage in active and intentional Christian ministry.  

  5. Our growth as disciples also means that we resist the temptation to chase after all that might be successful at the cost of being faithful to our mission of bearing witness to the kingdom of God in word and in deed.  While we are committed to excellence in ministry, we are also called, at times, to focus our energy on things that might not be seen as wise in the minds of the world around us.  

  6. How does an encounter with this story shape who we are and who we should become?

  7. This passage calls us to respond to the healing we have received at the hands of Jesus and engage in active and intentional ministry.

  8. It also calls us to examine our ministries as a church to see if they are true to the mission of bearing witness to the kingdom of God in word and in deed.

Specific Discussion Questions: Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly.  Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.

  1. What are the possible reasons why Simon informs Jesus of his mother-in-law’s sickness?

  2. What is significant about the way Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law? Keep in mind; it would have been taboo for a man to touch a woman who was not related to him.

  3. Some early Christians looked metaphorically at the fever that Simon’s mother-in-law. The fever was a stand in for anything that causes us to sin. What kinds of “fevers” have plagued your life in the past? What kinds of fevers do you suffer from now? How has Jesus healed you from those things in the past? How might Jesus heal you now?

  4. Simon’s mother-in-law’s first response is to get up and serve Jesus and his followers. What is this important? Have you gotten up after your healing and begun to serve?

  5. Why might Simon really want Jesus to stick around in Capernaum? What reason does Jesus give for moving on?

  6. Jesus exercised laser-like focus on his mission to proclaim the kingdom of God all around. He refused to be tempted by the immediate and initial successes he enjoyed in Capernaum. As a church, are we ever tempted to go with whatever is successful at the expense of faithfulness to our mission?

  7. Jesus had a single-minded focus on his mission of preaching the kingdom of God. Simon’s mother-in-law, once healed, became a servant of Jesus and supported his mission. As a church, the third part of our mission statement is to bear witness to the kingdom of God. List some of the ministries in our church that help us do that.

  8. What keeps us from focusing on and participating in those ministries?

  9. Have an honest conversation about whether or not you are like Simon’s mother-in-law. Are you one who has been healed by God’s grace and is now serving and ministering? What would it take for you to take the next step toward faithful service and ministry?

Works Cited:  Boring, M. Eugene, Mark: A Commentary, The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).

France, R.T., The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002), 110.

Jerome, Corpus Christianorum, LXXVII, 468 quoted in Lamar Williamson Jr, Mark: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).

Witherington III, Ben, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001).