Rev. Teri Peterson|
Pay It Foward
5 February 2012, Ordinary 5B
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He 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.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
“Everyone is searching for you.” I don’t know about you, but I hate to hear things like that. Usually, though, the “Everyone” in “everyone thinks” or “everyone wants” is not, in fact, everyone...it’s the person who’s talking. Nonetheless, hearing that “Everyone” wants or thinks something still brings me a little bit of anxiety—what did I forget? What am I supposed to be doing?
Luckily, Jesus doesn’t seem to have this anxiety. He’s been in this story, and he knows it’s the disciples—not the amorphous “everyone”—who are looking for him. He probably knows why, too—because they want him to do more of that cool stuff he did yesterday! It had been a more action-packed Sabbath than any of them had ever known. The day began with a screaming demon in the synagogue, and ended with the entire city gathered at their door to see this amazing guy who healed people! It was one of the more exciting days of rest, I’d imagine.
After all that, the disciples are looking for Jesus. Never mind that it’s still dark outside. Never mind that he’s obviously left them behind on purpose and gone to this deserted place. Never mind that he’s praying. Simon and Andrew and James and John hunt for Jesus—I can just imagine them looking for footprints and following his scent, tracking him down on a hillside someplace. Why? Why are they looking for him? The whole city was at the house last night, and Jesus healed diseases and cast out demons. What more do the disciples want, and why are they insisting that “everyone” wants it, rather than just saying “we were looking for you”?
Maybe they’re excited by their rising popularity—they’re associated with this amazing healer and teacher, after all. They’re his disciples, he called them to follow him, and now he’s the most popular dude in town, and to top it off he’s staying at their house!
Maybe since they have committed to following Jesus, and they know that to be called to be a rabbi’s disciple means that the rabbi believes they can become like him, they want to be where Jesus is and do what Jesus does.
Except...did you notice who does what Jesus does in this story? I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t the disciples.
At the very beginning of this passage, it says that Peter’s mother-in-law, a woman without a name, is sick with a fever. Jesus comes into her room, takes her by the hand, and raises her up. She is healed and restored to her place in community, and her response is to get up and begin to serve.
Now, I usually like to read this in a cynical way—like, of course the first thing Jesus did in the house was heal the woman who was supposed to cook dinner! But there’s a deeper reading here. In Greek, it says that Peter’s nameless mother in law got up and “diakonoi”—does the word sound familiar? It’s the root of a word we use often, and the same verb that’s used to talk about what Jesus does. This woman is the first deacon—the first to respond to Jesus’ call by ministering to others. She is, in many ways, the first true disciple. She experiences healing grace, and she responds to that grace in service. The other disciples have experienced Jesus, but when it comes time for them to minister, they go out hunting for Jesus. And Jesus’ response? To go on to the next place.
Isn’t Jesus the one who does all the good stuff, the one everyone’s looking for, the thing people want to see and touch and hear?
Maybe...but he hasn’t come just to stay in one town and become the local guru. He hasn’t come to make people come looking for him—he’s here to go out to where the people are and to transform them right there in their own place, to make the kingdom of God visible right here.
Peter’s mother in law wasn’t healed so she could sit around waiting for Jesus to do the next thing. She was healed because Jesus needed her to be whole, needed her to be a fully functioning part of her community, needed her to be transformed for the transformation of the world. Because he was never planning on staying in her house forever, so he needed to make sure there would be someone who was ready to carry on the mission right there while he went to the next town. He needed someone who would answer the call to ministry, right there in the house and in the town. So he brings healing—not just a cure, maybe not even a cure, but wholeness, restoration, raising up. He’s not raising the dead just yet, instead he’s raising the living to fullness of life. Curing, remember, is only about symptoms. Healing may or may not have anything to do with the symptoms—it has everything to do with being whole, knowing grace, being restored to abundant life. Healing allows us, even when we may still be ill, to claim the vocation God has given us. So Jesus is making disciples who will continue the work even after the disciple slumber party. He’s showing people how to live in the kingdom of God, here and now, and to bring others in as well.
Jesus doesn’t just call us, and he doesn’t just cure us. He takes us by the hand, raises us up, makes us whole...and then expects us to pass it on, to pay it forward. We receive grace so that we can live grace. We are made whole so we can bring wholeness to others. Jesus comes to our homes, our churches, our communities, and gets the work started—and has enough faith in us that we will keep the good news going, that we will be the body of Christ. As disciples, we want to do what our rabbi does—pray, love, bring wholeness, and serve.
May it be so.