Sunday Sermon 7th February
The chosen hymns for this week, Jesus name above all names and In Christ alone can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Well, what did you think when you listened to the reading from Mark’s Gospel? I suspect that some of you will have reacted the same way as I did. My initial thought was that this is just another typical story about Jesus at the time when he started his ministry.
So does the passage that Jim read for us have anything to say to us? Can we learn anything new, or is it simply an example of Jesus doing the things that we have been taught to expect from him? Today’s reading only gives us a tiny glimpse into Jesus’ ministry, but we are not surprised by what we are told. We’ve heard it all before! We have heard many of the stories of miracles, and we have a mental picture of Jesus travelling about with his followers, teaching, and healing. So why did Mark think that this story is important enough to have a prominent place near the beginning of his gospel?
Mark wrote his gospel sometime in the First Century, probably between 50 and 70 AD, and at that time many people knew little or nothing about Jesus’ ministry and teaching. Mark wanted to show that Jesus was not just another wandering preacher, but that he was special, an outstanding teacher who taught with authority, a miracle worker who had power from God, and who deserved to have everyone’s attention.
In the passage that we read, Mark tells us that Jesus and his followers left the Synagogue then they went to Simon and Andrew’s house. From this we know that it was the Sabbath, and so we see that Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law on the Sabbath.
The Jewish Sabbath lasted from nightfall on Friday until nightfall on Saturday, and during this time there were strict limits on what was permissible. Normal work was forbidden, and Jesus was perfectly aware that folk might say that healing someone was just a special type of work, and therefore he was breaking the Sabbath. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Jesus was showing that compassion and concern for others is more important than following the letter of the law, but at that time many people would have found such behaviour shocking, and totally unacceptable. Jesus was also risking the wrath of the religious authorities.
By healing on the Sabbath Jesus was not only showing his love and compassion, but he was also challenging the people and the religious authorities to see how they would react. Would they understand, and approve of his actions or would they complain and accuse him of breaking the Sabbath? However, at this particular time, no one complained.
Jesus’ healing actions had certainly impressed the local people because Mark tells us that in the evening, after sunset, the whole town gathered at the door. They brought those who had various diseases to Jesus, and he healed many of them. Because the town’s people had waited until after sunset, the Sabbath had ended, and so they could not be accused of breaking the Law. It seems that the local people were appreciative of the teaching and healing, but they themselves did not want to risk breaking the Sabbath laws. You may think that this sounds a bit hypocritical, but we have to remember that they lived at a time when the Sabbath laws were strictly observed, and maybe they felt that only Jesus had the authority to break the law.
Mark was trying to spread the news about Jesus Christ in the 1st Century, but for us in the 21st Century it is easy to think that we have nothing new to learn from this single incident. Our problem is that we know quite a lot about Jesus, and it is because we are so familiar with the stories of his life and work that it is easy for us to forget how utterly astonishing, revolutionary and challenging Jesus was.
We humans are very good at ignoring things that are very familiar to us. Some of you may remember the first landing on the Moon in 1969. It was a world-wide sensation. People were very excited, and pictures of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the Moon were broadcast all around the world. About 3 years later a couple were passing a shop that had a display of TV’s in the window. The woman asked, “What’s on the telly?” Her husband glanced at the TV and said, “Oh, it’s only someone on the Moon.” They continued walking and did not stop to look.
This is a true story, and it serves to show how we humans behave. Within a few years of the first Moon landing, we had become used to news reports about various missions to space, so the fact that there was a human being on another planet was no longer amazing, and people lost interest.
When something is familiar to us, we can easily pay no attention to it, and forget about any importance it may have, so I think that although this short passage from Mark’s Gospel may not teach us anything new, we should use it to help us to focus again on how extraordinary, and important, Jesus was, and still is to us today. So what do these 11 verses tell us?
Jesus was not just another of the many itinerant preachers. When he taught, we are told that he taught with authority, and the people were amazed by his teaching. Today we can read about Jesus’ teaching in our Bibles, but do we find it amazing? Perhaps we should ask ourselves if it is our familiarity with the stories that makes Jesus’ teaching seem less amazing to us. His teaching and example challenged the people of that time, and it still challenges us today.
Jesus was always willing to take the time to show his compassion for anyone who was in need. He did not make any distinction between people, he helped anyone who came to him, and he did not ask for anything in return. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, we must follow his example and be willing to help others irrespective of who they are or what we think of their lifestyle. I know that this is difficult, and it can be a real challenge for many of us.
Jesus was prepared to step outside the bounds of generally acceptable behaviour, and to break the rules if they prevented him from helping people. How his actions appeared to others, and what they thought about him, was much less important than taking the opportunity to show love and compassion. Many people would have been shocked, and the religious leaders may have felt that their authority was being undermined. Today we seem to have fewer rules than the Jews had in Jesus’ time, but we have the same dilemma as the people of the 1st Century. Our challenge is, “Are we prepared to ignore what people think or say about us, in order to do what we know to be right?”
This short passage raises questions for us, and it challenges our own attitudes and behaviour. If we read the rest of Mark’s Gospel, or indeed any of the other Gospels, and I would encourage you to do so, we are told much more about this astounding, and sometimes shocking Jesus. Let us all do our best to ensure that we never lose our sense of awe and amazement when we hear these familiar, but wonderful stories about him.
The important thing is that we should always try to follow Jesus’ example, and do what we know to be right, without worrying about what others may think or say.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, you know that we often find it difficult to do the right thing. By reading the Gospels we know how we ought to behave, but we continually fail to follow the example set by your Son. We worry about what other people will think or say, so we look for excuses, and we find all sorts of reasons for taking what we think will be the easy way. Merciful God, we ask for your forgiveness for all the times that we have failed to follow the teaching and example of Jesus.
Jesus’ words and actions challenged the people of his time, and they still challenge us today. May your Spirit give us the strength and courage to rise to these challenges, so that we can be his true followers.
Hear our prayer which we offer in Jesus’ name,
Thank you for joining with us. Please feel free to pass this short reflection on to anyone else who may be interested.
Now as you go about your daily lives, love God, and serve God.
Serve God by showing his love and care to all people everywhere.
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of
the Holy Spirit, be with us all, now and for evermore.