A sermon preached by the Reverend Trevor Jamison for Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields, February 7th 2021
‘That evening, at sunset, they brought to him [Jesus] all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door.’ (1:31-32)
Well, if they tried that at the moment, and word got out, the police would be turning up to disperse an illegal gathering. That would be ironic, for it was the prospect of healing that led to what nowadays would be described as a potential Covid super-spreader event. So how did come about?
Well, the door around which everyone had gathered belonged Simon and Andrew, the two fishermen that Jesus had called to follow him. And Jesus, along with them, and in the company of, James and John, had come to that house from the local synagogue in the town of Capernaum. They had been at the synagogue on the sabbath day, and whilst there Jesus had been teaching, with an authoritative style that astonished those who heard him. Equally astonishingly, he had also healed a man suffering from what the Gospel writer, Mark, calls an ‘unclean spirit.’ (1:26)
Once they got to the house it was apparent that there was a problem. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever. Jesus, however, quickly set about healing her. The man in the synagogue had been healed by an authoritative word – ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ but Simon’s mother-in-law was healed via physical touch: ‘He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her.’ (1:30)
And there was plenty of time for Jesus to do all this before the crowd arrived at the door with ‘all who were sick or possessed with demons.’ (1:32) He even had time to grab a bite to eat it seems, because according to Mark, Simon’s mother-in-law, was now the able to serve them – ‘them’ being the men, I presume. I’m sure she was grateful. Still there was no hurry because nobody was going to turn up until sunset.
That was because this was the sabbath day. People had seen or heard about Jesus healing the man in the synagogue, which was potentially very good news for anyone in the town who had a health complaint. All the same, even though Jesus thought it was ok to heal on the sabbath, why take the chance of breaking the religious rules of the day? Carrying your friend, or family member, or neighbour a distance could be construed as doing work on the sabbath. Better to wait until the next day.
From the Jewish point of view, the day ended once the sun went down. All around the households of the town, men and women must have been watching the sun sink in the sky, until it dropped beneath the horizon, they were off, carrying their unwell companions to the house. Just when Jesus might have hoped for rest and sleep, there everyone was, crowding round at the door, and his time and energy had to be given up to curing ‘many who were sick with various diseases,’ and to ‘cast[ing] out many demons.’ (1:34) It’s no wonder that in the morning, ‘he got up and went off [by himself] to a deserted place, and there he prayed.’ (1:35)
But there’s no rest for the holy! Once Simon and others in the house realised that Jesus had gone AWOL, search set out in search of him, hunting him down to his place of spiritual refreshment. And they came with a message, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ (1:37) I think the implication here is that ‘everyone’ wants Jesus to come back and deliver more of those healings. There is no end, it seems, to the demands that one town can generate.
Perhaps Jesus was tempted to go back with them and meet their expectations. He was in a deserted place, and such a place, a wilderness, was where Jesus had already been confronted with temptation. But Jesus declines to come back. It might be true that ‘everyone [in Capernaum] is searching for him,’ but actually ‘everyone’ consists of more than the people of one town in North Galilee. Hence his answer: ‘Let us go to the neighbouring towns, so that I my proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’
I think this is a really fascinating Gospel story, and there’s lots we could take from it for our own situation in our own time, but I’ll just mention a couple of things.
The first is that the message of Jesus, that God is near to us and cares for us, and that we should change the direction of our lives in response to that, is best expressed in both words and actions. In the synagogue, Jesus personified that by both teaching and healing. Maybe part of his reason for moving on from Capernaum was that, understandable though it may have been, the crowd only turned up for healings, not for the teaching.
That suggests to me that any church that wants to proclaim the message of Jesus today needs to take care to have a healthy approach which combines saying and doing. Talk without action lacks credibility. Helping people without saying why you are doing so, loses the link with God, which is what is supposed to guide the actions we take in the first place. If we leave the talk about God out, we make it more difficult for others to make their own response to God. We also run the risk of forgetting what we are about in the first place.
Then, second, in addition to keeping a healthy balance between words and actions, Jesus’s decision to go, ‘throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons’ (1:39), reminds us that in sharing his message we should not limit ourselves only to revisiting the same place again and again. It’s not that we need to hit the road to the other towns of North Tyneside. What I am saying is that we should be on the alert for opportunities to share the message of Jesus with new groups of people, in new situations, wherever we live.
So , looking forward as a church, as his people, let’s share the message of Jesus, through what we say about God, and what we do in God’s name. Let’s be ready to speak and act in new areas as well the old ones. In following Jesus, let’s seek to do what Jesus did.