By the Rev. Elisabeth Hartwell
RCL Reflection, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 4, 2024
Key verse: Jesus 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.” -Mark 1:38
Dear fellow preachers: Good grief, you thought YOU had a busy day, until taking a look at a day in Jesus’ life! Just consider all that he does in this week’s Gospel reading (Mark 1:21-28) and in the several verses preceding it. First, in the middle of a worship service he heals a man with an unclean spirit. Then, as soon as he leaves worship, he goes straight to Simon’s house to heal his mother-in-law. That evening, even as the sun sets, a virtual mob of sorts appears before him, all either in need of healing themselves or desiring healing for someone else. Then, very early the next morning, Jesus’ own prayers are interrupted as Simon and some others “hunt” him down to deliver the message “everyone is searching for you.”
What are we to make of Jesus’ seemingly incessant busyness? Is this text aiming to encourage us to up our own ministry game? Should we encourage our congregants to step up the pace of their own busy lives? Or will it ultimately just motivate us to enjoy a much-needed nap?
I wonder if, when it comes down to it, this lesson is prompting followers to be good stewards of time and opportunity. Ultimately, these are the most precious gifts we possess, and Mark 1:29-39 enables us to ask if we are being intentional in our use of these gifts. What comes to mind are a few ways we might go about this:
+We could ponder just what Jesus is up to as he prays in those early morning hours. Clearly, this time is just as significant as all the other moments when he is actively engaging with people. Mark tells us it is dark outside, and that Jesus is in a deserted place. We can imagine Jesus uses this backdrop to engage in some much needed soul-searching. In the example of Jesus, how do we prepare our souls, minds, and bodies for the abundant work that lies in front of us?
+We could focus on the difference between Simon and Simon’s mother-in-law when it comes to serving others. We are told that Simon’s mother-in-law, upon being healed by Jesus, immediately sets out to serve those around her. While we might be tempted to encourage her to rest for a while instead of jumping right back into her work, she is obviously intent on engaging in active service. Simon, on the other hand, does not seem to find this same meaning in serving actively and intentionally. He would rather “pass the buck” to someone else, and seems to spend much of our text pestering others to do things. There is much to be done: how do we hold ourselves accountable to work hard?
+We could focus on how there is very little, if any, divide between what Jesus says and does. Consider how intimate and relational Jesus’ ministry is. He understands that ministry is about being truly present, drawing close to people, and literally touching them. Jesus’ ministry is not ultimately about his ability to preach with eloquence, to use pretty, lofty words in an effort to influence others. Jesus’ ministry is hands-on, messy, and down-to-earth. How do we follow in his footsteps, and encourage our congregants to do the same?
My fellow preachers, the purpose of Mark 1:29-39 is not necessarily to give us one more reason to stand in awe of Jesus. Rather, it is a reminder that time is the most precious gift we possess, and we can be faithful stewards of the opportunities placed in front of us. Sometimes the opportunity will be to lovingly come alongside someone else in their distress; another time, it might be to use our own healing to serve others; and other times, we will take advantage of the opportunity to engage in prayer and much-needed soul-searching, even when the places we go to do this feel dark and deserted. The time and opportunities we have been given enable us to further Christ’s work in and for our communities and world.
In our lives, there are so many instances in which so-called “interruptions” are really meaningful opportunities to be of service to Jesus. We can only imagine that, early in the morning as Jesus spends much-needed and deserved time alone, he might regard the way Simon bursts onto the scene as an interruption. But, instead, he seems to use this as an opportunity to gain greater clarity into his purpose. Invite your congregants to do the same, as they reflect on the unexpected opportunities they have had to serve in Jesus’ name.
Talk with youth about how so much of living our faith takes place outside the church building. We come to church to be fed through worship and learning, surrounded by a loving family of faith. And yet, we are meant to use our involvement in church as our foundation to serve Jesus in our everyday lives. Encourage youth to reflect on the many opportunities they have to love others and share their faith.
Talk with children about how, in the Bible, there are so many people who need Jesus to help them, and point out some examples from Mark 1:29-39. And then remind kids that they can also help others, and that it is so important to be on the lookout for someone who needs a helping hand, or a kind word, or a friend. Even as they go to school, or play sports, or spend time with family and friends, they can look for opportunities to help and love others.