Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, year B
texts: Mark 1:29-39; Isaiah 40:21-31
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Even allowing for Mark’s tendency to exaggerate, it must have been overwhelming.
Jesus heals a man in a synagogue. That night, at Simon Peter’s house, “the whole city was gathered around the door.” Of course there was a crowd. Once people realize there’s help available somewhere, they line up for it. Word gets out in mysterious and potent ways. Maybe all 1,500 people in Capernaum weren’t there, but it felt like it. Even Jesus was overwhelmed. After he “cured many who were sick” and cast out “many” demons, they finally got the door closed, got to bed. But in the early pre-dawn darkness, Jesus slipped out, went to a place with no people, and prayed.
What do you do when there are so many who need help, and they’ve come to you? If you’re Jesus, you help. You heal. You cast out demons. But when you can, you get away, to pray, to find open space, to clear your head and heart. To be filled up inside after pouring out so much.
But what do you do if you’re not the Son of God? What do you do when you are so overwhelmed by the needs of the world around you and you don’t think you can do anything? It’s one thing to be tired out from healing and exorcism. It’s entirely different to wake up the next morning, find the crowd gathering outside the door, and realize the only one who knows what to do has left in the middle of the night.
Our home in this story is that moment with Simon and the others at daybreak.
Of course they leave to find Jesus, hunt for him. They can’t do anything for these sick people, these hurting friends and neighbors. They know their neighbors know they don’t have that ability. These crowds grew up with boneheaded Simon; they won’t see him as a healer. So Simon and the others think, “Why try and fail when we can get Jesus, the one person who could take care of things?
Turning for help is actually also why Jesus is gone at the moment.
In need, overwhelmed, Jesus turned to the Father.
This time of prayer in a deserted place is powerful witness. We don’t understand the mystery of prayer within the life of the Trinity, but living as one of us there were many times when Jesus needed prayer.
In prayer he quiets himself, receives wisdom and encouragement, is restored by the Holy Spirit. In this moment the Triune God is once more dancing in that inner divine life, Father, Son, and Spirit moving in and among each other. After the night he had, Jesus deeply needed this communion in God.
Then he was ready to go on. When the disciples find him, he announces they’re heading for another town, to proclaim the Good News, what he came to do. He is sent to declare that God has come to be with the people of the world, bringing a rule and reign of life and love and grace. Renewed by his communion in prayer, Jesus is ready to face the overwhelming crowds again.
Now Simon and the others need to learn this pattern. So do we.
When the world’s need overwhelms us, we come here, looking for our Lord, for strength and wisdom.
Mark’s exaggeration seems apt in our time. The problems and pain of today are overwhelming, as if the whole city, the whole world, has come for help. There is more healing and restoring needed here than we can handle. If we help one person, here, or in our jobs or neighborhoods, it seems there are twenty more needing help, and there are systems that keep making more in need. We’re afraid to open the door for fear of being overrun by what we’ll see outside.
So we follow the lead of Simon Peter and the others. We come here looking for our Lord, because Jesus knows what to do when we don’t. But we also follow Jesus’ lead. We come for prayer, quiet, peace. To be filled up after pouring out. To commune with the Triune God, to be strengthened, restored.
But after restoring us, Jesus always says, “Now, here’s the plan.”
Jesus’ job isn’t to do our work. It’s to make us ready and send us out.
The disciples have no idea what to do with the needs of the crowd, so they run into the wild to find Jesus, to hand off the job, comforted they’re not in charge. But not too much later they, too, will be sent out in pairs to actually preach, actually heal, actually cast out demons. That’s Jesus’ work, to prepare the disciples, to prepare us, for our ministry in his name in the world. To change us so we can actually do it.
We come here looking for Jesus, and are restored, but we know he’s going to train us and send us back into the world. He won’t let us stay inside or hide behind his power and might, as if there’s nothing we can do.
He will send us as he sent the first ones, transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, given new hearts, new strength, to know what to do with the overwhelming needs of this world. Christ’s risen life will fill our hearts to be Christ ourselves.
What do you do if you’re not the Son of God but there are so many who need help, and they’ve come to you?
You realize you are in fact a child of God, so you do what Jesus does. You help. You heal. You even drive out demons and fear. In Christ Jesus we see Isaiah’s promise come to pass, that the everlasting God who stretched out the heavens like a curtain, to whom we are like tiny grasshoppers, actually cares about us, puny as we are, and has come to lift up the lowly, strengthen the fainthearted, renew the hearts of the world. Even uproot death with resurrection life.
The only way the rest of the world will know this is if we, by our lives, our ministry, open the door of the house and go into the crowd ourselves. When we need rest, strength, the support of our Lord, we come here for life. We pray. We hear the plan for what’s next.
Then we open our doors and go back into the street. But we don’t go alone. We are filled with Christ’s grace and healing, and our risen Christ goes with us fully. We stand, then, as Christ in the face of evil and death, doing what we can. As it always has been from Simon until now, we become God’s healing, renewing, life-giving presence in this world. And we are not overwhelmed.
In the name of Jesus. Amen