February 8, 2015 Mark 1: 29-39
Rev. Catherine Purves
How many of you, when someone asks how you are, automatically say, “Busy.” I know I do. And almost every time I say it, I think, I shouldn’t have said that. “Busy” doesn’t really describe who I am or how I’m doing. It’s not what I want people to think of whenever they are moved to call and ask for a bit of my time. Perhaps I should say, “Busy, but it’s a good kind of busy.” Usually that’s the case, but I have to admit that sometimes I do feel over-busy, and then I have to take stock and consider whether I’ve stretched myself too thin. There’s busy, and then there’s overwhelmed. I think all of us know the difference. A day in any of our lives will most likely be busy. So, how can we be busy without being overwhelmed by all of the things we feel we must do?
If this is a challenge for us, how much more did Jesus have to contend with this problem? And how did he handle being constantly in demand? He had only three short years of ministry, and there was so much to do each and every day!
Mark gives us a snapshot of a day in the life of Jesus in our reading for today. In actual fact, this long day for Jesus began with last week’s Scripture passage. It was the Sabbath, and in the morning Jesus went to the synagogue to teach. We saw last week that Jesus made quite an impression on the synagogue crowd because he taught with such authority. This was also the occasion of his first miraculous healing. He cast out a demon from a man who was possessed. It was quite a morning’s work, and after that Jesus and his four disciples went to Simon Peter’s house.
Time for Jesus to put his feet up and relax, you might expect, but as soon as they arrived they discovered that Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and lunch was not on the table. Jesus had already confronted a demon; now he had to deal with disease. But it was all in a day’s work. He went in to the woman’s bedroom, took her by the hand, and lifted her up. Immediately, she was healed, and getting out of bed she proceeded to serve them.
It’s interesting to note that the first person Jesus healed of a physical illness was a woman, and that she then exemplified the proper response to Jesus by rising to serve him. This may offend our liberated views of the expected role of women in society. But Mark sees Peter’s mother-in-law as a model of discipleship. By contrast, the other disciples are much slower to understand the kind of busyness that is appropriate and to be commended. But this woman, rising from her sickbed, immediately resumed her active life of humble service.
As the afternoon wore on and the sun began to set, marking the end of the Sabbath, others started to gather at Peter’s house – people with all sorts of ailments and those who were afflicted by demons. To make his point, Mark exaggerated just a bit by claiming that, “the whole city was gathered around the door.” They had presumably been waiting until the Sabbath was over so that they could carry people to Jesus without breaking the law. It was the end of the day for them, but the beginning of a long night for Jesus. The possessed man in the synagogue and Peter’s mother-in-law were just the first of many, many exorcisms and healings that day.
Another one of my standard, automatic answers when someone asks me how I am is to say, “I’m tired.” Have you caught yourself saying that a lot too? At the end of a long day, I’m often tired. Sometimes just looking at my daily to-do list makes me tired. I can’t even imagine the kind of exhaustion that Jesus experienced virtually every day of his life. How did he do it? You might think, well, he was God. But keep in mind that he was, in the words of the creed, “fully human.” His power to heal was surely divine, but he shared with us the frailty of our human flesh. Mark seems to suggest that Jesus responded with compassion to everyone who crowded around Peter’s door that night. I suppose it would have never occurred to him that this was above and beyond the call of duty.
Even then, his day was not quite complete, though. Mark tells us that, after just a few hours of sleep, very early in the morning, when it was still dark outside, Jesus got up, and he went off to a deserted place to pray. Is this not the key and the most crucial part of a day in the life of Jesus? Mark does not elaborate on Jesus’ prayer life, but even in our own, far less illustrious experience, we should know that a life grounded in prayer and in communion with the Father is a life that can bear far more busyness. It is a life with purpose and a life empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is a re-fuelled life that can go the extra mile and that can discern what is most important to do. We are not called to be busy for the sake of being busy. If we do too much we will get weary, and the joy will go out of our service. But to rise each morning and to meet the Lord in prayer is to find new strength and fresh resolve to be a disciple like Peter’s mother-in-law. Being lifted up by the very power of God we will be able to engage again in a day of humble service.
Simon Peter and the other disciples tracked Jesus down and interrupted his time of prayer. It almost seems as if they were annoyed at him for rising before dawn and withdrawing from the place of active ministry in order to think and pray and to receive strength and spiritual nourishment in the desert. They impatiently urged him to come back to Capernaum where he was beginning to make a name for himself as a miracle-worker and an exorcist. But Jesus was quite clear that they had to move on. He was not simply called to solve everyone’s problems or to build up his own reputation, and neither are we. He was called to live and proclaim the Gospel. The healings and the compassion he had for the crowds were certainly part of that, but he must also teach and reveal in his own life the saving grace and power of God. So, Mark goes on to describe a second day in the life of Jesus as he continues the work he has been given to do, going to all of the little towns and villages of Galilee with renewed energy and purpose.
What can we learn from this day in the life of Jesus? We see that a faithful life maintains a healthy balance between active ministry and time spent with God. Solitude, seeking God, openness to the Spirit, wrestling with our own demons, and then being refreshed and grounded through prayer are essential. We have to realize that all of our busyness, all of our good deeds and faithful service, are really God working through us. When we maintain our vital connection with God through prayer, then we are not the ones who are busy. God is busy doing things in and through us. But if that link is broken (if we stop praying), then we will be the ones who are busy. If you ironically think that you are too busy to make time for prayer, then you will find that you are living your life fueled solely by your own willpower which is hardly a limitless or a reliable resource. That is when you will find yourself overwhelmed and exhausted by your busyness.
Many of you will have heard the famous quote of Martin Luther who said, “Work, work from morning until late at night. I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the firstthree hours in prayer.” Do you think he wasn’t serious? He most certainly was. And this sentiment has been repeated again and again by some of the busiest Christians throughout history. A day in the life of every one of them looked like this. It was a day rooted and grounded in prayer. What does a day in your life look like?
Soon we will be in the season of Lent, a time when prayer and self-examination are especially emphasized so that we can grow in our faith and Christian discipleship. Let us prepare for that penitential season of self-reflection by taking stock of our lives and by taking responsibility for the way in which we handle our busyness. How much do you have to do today, and tomorrow, and the next day? And how much time must you first spend in prayer? Keep in mind these words of a contemporary Christian author, Max Lucado, who said, “When we work, we work; but when we pray God works.” Make time for prayer.