A Provocation: Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany: February 4, 2018: Mark 1:29-39

Mark 1:29-39
1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

1:30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.

1:31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

1:32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.

1:33 And the whole city was gathered around the door.

1:34 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.

1:35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

1:36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him.

1:37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

1:38 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.”

1:39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

A Question or Two:

Some Longer Reflections:

Καὶ εὐθὺς ἐκ τῆς συναγωγῆς…

That’s how the scene begins.  Another εὐθὺς, another “immediately” that adds intensity to the scene (and that should have been translated but was not).  And another link to the synagogue.  So this is later in the same sabbath that set up last week’s preaching text.  

They go to the home of Simon and Andrew, a home the brothers apparently share with Simon’s mother-in-law.  She is ill; Jesus heals her; and she rises and serves them.  This is all fine and good, though, as one of my students, now a pastor, said: “What?  No one except the mother-in-law could boil water?  Good question.

But Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel has pointed out something interesting.

The word translated as “served” is διηκόνει.  This is a word, Moltmann-Wendel notes, that this word, when the subject is a woman, is usually translated as “served,” or “cooked,” or “waited tables.”  But when this verb has a male subject, everything changes.  With a male subject, διηκόνει is generally translated as “acted as a deacon for the community.”

Now, I have nothing against cooking.  In fact, I love to cook, and the hospitality that goes with preparing a good meal for guests is a marvelous thing we share as human beings.  But acting as a deacon is also a marvel.

In ancient communities of faith, the διακόνός (deacon) was the person responsible for connecting need with resource.  If someone had lost their home, the διακόνός was in charge of knowing whose child had gone off to college, so there was an extra bedroom.  If someone was hungry, the διακόνός was the person who would connect them with someone whose garden had produced an incredible number of tomatoes (not to mention the spaghetti squash).  The διακόνός facilitated the care in the caring community.  The διακόνός was the one who made it all work.

Which makes the next moment in this scene from Mark’s story very interesting indeed.  The storyteller informs us that, “That evening, at sundown [that is to say, when sabbath had ended and the world went back to normal] they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.”

How did they know to come?

You can make up all sorts of answers, and some of them even work pretty well.  But notice that the storyteller just told us that Peter’s mother-in-law διηκόνει αὐτοῖς, she “deaconed” to them.  It may have involved cooking.  But taking my lead from Moltmann-Wendel, I think the whole town came to the gates of the house because she connected need with resource.  

I think the whole town came because Peter’s mother-in-law went house-to-house and told everyone who had a family member who was “sick or possessed with demons” that there was a resource available, and the resource was God’s messiah, sent to turn the world right-side-up.

By the way, the storyteller revisits this theme at the end of the story.

When Jesus has been tortured to death, all the men with names have run away.  They have left the story and will not return.  But then we discover that Jesus has not died alone.  He has, in fact, died surrounded by people who have been with him since the beginning of the story in Galilee, who have followed him all the way up to Jerusalem, all the way to his death.  He has died surrounded by people, we are told, who had “deaconed” to him.  These people were women, and they have been doing, all along, exactly what Peter’s mother-in-law just did.

I think the storyteller just told us that it was the women who made Jesus’ whole career possible.  When the four friends brought the paralyzed man to the house where Jesus was teaching, perhaps one of these women told them where to find him, and maybe it was another of these women who pointed out that there are ways to get into a house that don’t require doors or windows.  And when Jairus came to find Jesus, perhaps it was some of these women who told him when Jesus would be arriving.  And the woman who came up behind Jesus in the crowd may have had coaches, deacons.  Perhaps she even became one of the deacons, herself.  Maybe she was the one from whom the Syro-Phoenician woman heard that Jesus was in the house and might be of help with her daughter.

Look at each of the healings in Mark’s story.  Ask yourself: who spread the word?  Who connected need with resource?  And think of Peter’s mother-in-law.

She is a good model.