Monday, July 13, 2009

Everyone is searching for you

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 neighbouring 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.

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

- Mark 1:29-45

My first impression upon reading this passage is of Jesus besieged by demands from people for their needs, especially for healing. Jesus heals from compassion and sympathy. But, he says, what he came to do is something different, he came to preach a message.

Jesus takes time for prayer. He will separate himself from all those with demands so that he has time to be alone with his Father. One gets the impression that he seeks guidance and direction before making any decisions.

But the healings are noted in the gospel for a reason. They're not performed to convince people of his messiahship. On the contrary, Jesus is always forbidding people to tell anything about what has happened to them. Only the healed leper he instructs to follow the law and see the priest (under Mosaic law, lepers had to be "certified" in order to rejoin the society). But he forbids the healed leper to speak publicly - of course, this admonition is not followed at all by the healed man. And so, Jesus has even more demanding crowds surrounding him, asking him for healing, time and attention. Jesus is also casting out demons. One gets the sense that this is somehow complementary to healing: these two acts are side-by-side, they go together; they are part of the same service to humanity. But Jesus forbids the demons to speak. I read in a note in my study bible that this is because the demons' statement about who he is would not be a confession of faith. But what stands out to me is the idea that Jesus does not want himself to be identified as Messiah. He has a message to preach, and he does not want it to be misunderstood or revealed or interpreted by anyone but himself and in his own way.

He goes off by himself early in the morning, when it is still dark. He goes to a deserted place, where he can pray. Even there, he is not left alone. Simon and his companions come to find him, and they tell him that everyone is searching for him. But Jesus says they must go to the neighboring towns so he can do what he must: he's there to preach a message.

Jesus' healings are not responding merely to demands, they're not to proclaim messianic identity or to convince people to listen to his message. They come from compassion. He touches the leper: I read that this was forbidden under the Mosaic law. Leprosy was also seen as a punishment from God. So again, in this example of healing we have the notion of cleansing from both illness and demons (those who work for the Accuser, Satan) going hand in hand.

But what of this message, this thing that he is there to do? The great tumult and crowding around him, the demands on his time, energy and capacity for healing are growing by the day. I read that in these passages in Mark we get the one and only glimpse of what a 24-hour day was like for Jesus. He's besieged with demands, with people. His fame and popularity grow. But his focus is on the message, and on prayer and centering to stay on that message. Ultimately the healings reflect this purpose: he's there to bring a message of good news, of healing, of relief for humanity of the burdens that ail and oppress. All of this is complementary to the message, they all go hand in hand. But everything comes out of that centered place, the duty to the Father, the thing he is here to do. His healings and exorcisms come out of his compassion - but his work is not merely responding to people's demands and needs. He's here to feed them with spiritual food - the message of the kingdom at hand - that he knows is the cure for their ailments. And that's quite a different thing, most often, from what we think we need, and how we think things should be done. It's a startling reality that we need to open our eyes to - not that we need to place our demands and expectations onto.

Finally, Jesus is so sought after by people that he can no longer go openly into towns, but has to stay out in the country. Still, people come to him from every quarter. The message is still there. Can we hear it among the tumult and the crowds, and our own demands for healing our ails?

No comments:

Post a Comment