The Kingdom of God has come near you
We are now in the Gospel of Mark. Our calendar is broken up into a three year cycle, so if you look at the funny little calendar we have that tells us which day should have which color, it also tells us which readings we have for the day, and those readings are coded like this “the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany,” and then it says Year A, B, or C. During each one of those years, we focus on reading one of the Synoptic Gospels. The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke. If you look at those three gospels in a special book called the Gospel Parallels, it shows you how many of the parts of each gospel are similar from one gospel to the next. There are a lot of similarities, and there are some major differences between them as well. Just to round out the subject, you should know that the Gospel of John is read every year at our high holy days, that is, during Holy Week, and a few other places. The Gospel of Mark is a very short book, and so you may have noticed that readings from the other gospels have been inserted occasionally.
But the Gospel of Mark is very engaging, and it is short enough to just sit down and read from beginning to end. It’s only about 20 pages! There are a couple of actors who have memorized the whole book, and who act it out – it is short enough to do that on stage. If you do just sit down and read it, you will notice some interesting things. First of all, the story of Jesus starts off with him as an adult. Mark is not concerned about Jesus as a baby or a youngster. Second, the story ends at the tomb, not with the resurrection!
The story we have today is at the beginning of his ministry. In Mark, time markers are very important. So he tells us that Jesus left the synagogue and went around the corner to the house of Simon and Andrew, and James and John came with him. It is rather amazing, but we can say that they went around the corner, because not only do they know exactly where the synagogue was, but they also know where Simon Peter’s house was. I have been there, and seen them both. So they go into the house, and – here’s the time marker – at once, they told him about the sick mother-in-law. This must have been quite frightening, for her to be sick. Think about it: mothers don’t often get sick, not sick enough to go to bed, and as long as there is not a famine, peasants are much more likely to die from accidents than from sickness. But there is more. Men in that society did not look at, much less touch women outside of their own wives, mothers and sisters. Jesus is a rabbi, and so would be expected to be even more strict than the average joe. But Jesus is different, he looks at women, he touches them, and he heals them. But there is more here. Jesus and his friends have just left the synagogue, and at once hears about the sick mother-in-law. They went to the synagogue because it was the sabbath. It is still the sabbath. There are strict rules about not working on the sabbath. Jesus heals her on the sabbath. There is another story where Jesus heals someone, but that time, he does not do it in private – and the authorities have a fit!
At sundown, another time marker, the townspeople brought all who were sick. The townspeople know the rules about working on the sabbath, and they wait until sundown, which is the end of the sabbath. They brought all who were sick and he cured many. They brought all the people who were possessed with demons, and he cast out many demons. I find this very interesting, and really helpful. They bring all who were sick, but not all get cured. They bring all who were possessed, and he cast out many demons, but not all. What’s going on here? Why would all not be cured? The disciples ask him this at another point where they tried to cure someone, and it didn’t work. What went wrong? The disciples want to know. The answer Jesus gives them says that in this particular case, prayer and fasting is required, a simple prayer for deliverance is not enough. And when we look at the healing ministry of Jesus, what we find is that there is not “one way” to heal people, even when they seem to have the same issue. He heals several blind men, and each one gets a different method. Some healings demand a response from the person being healed, some do not. Sometimes it seems clear that it is not the right time, the person is not ready. Sometimes, we just don’t know, and that is also an answer.
In the morning, another time marker, the very early morning when it was still very dark, Jesus got up, slipped out of the house and went to a deserted place to pray. The rest of them got up at the usual time, looked around, and Jesus was gone. So then went looking, it says they “hunted” for him. When they found him and told him everyone was looking for him, his response is interesting! He does not care that everyone is looking for him. No doubt the whole community is abuzz because of the healings of the night before, and people who were not sure about this guy last night now want in on some of the action. Jesus is not concerned about building his reputation. He could easily have set up shop in Capernaum and become the resident rabbi, the synagogue would have grown in significance, he could have had a nice life. But no, his response is very different. “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.
And what was the message that he proclaimed? Simply this: The Kingdom of God has come near you. And then he showed what that was like. The sermon I heard last week talked about how we remember much more about what people do than what they say. St Francis used to preach a lot, not just to the birds and animals, but to lots of people as well. But very little was written down about what he preached, and a lot was remembered about what he did. When we read the Gospel of Mark, we get a picture of what Jesus was like, the kinds of things he did, what he found important, and the things he did not bother with. Jesus wanted us to know that God loves us, even more than we love our children, and that we should strive to love each other like God loves us. In other words, we should love each other more than we love our own children – what would that look like? It boggles the mind, don’t you think? More than anything, Jesus wanted us to know that God is with us, not out there far away as a judge who needs bribe money, but as a mother who feels pain when her child is not OK. Over and over, one thing we know he said was: the Kingdom of God has come very near to you. So there it is: God is with us, God loves us, the Kingdom of God has come very near you. That is the message.
Today is also the day that we remember the Martyrs of Japan. These people, men, women, and children, were threatened with loss of jobs, loss of land, and often, loss of life during this time when the shogunate decided to eliminate Christianity from Japan. Two hundred and fifty years later, with no clergy, no buildings, no programs, no books, none of the things that we find so important, 250 years later when Christian clergy were allowed back into the country, they found families who were still practicing Christianity, who were still convinced of the message of Jesus. They knew that God is with us, God loves us, the Kingdom of God has come near us. They felt the love, they “knew” the love of God. It was so important that they taught their children, and their children’s children, and they taught their children, for 250 years.
Do you know this love of God? Do you know that God loves you? Do you know that God is with us? Do you know that the Kingdom of God has come near us? It’s true. Do we believe it? Does it make any difference in our lives? Imagine, for a minute, the time when you felt most loved. Where do you feel that in your body? Allow that feeling to spread out, so that it not only fills your body, but fills up the space around you. Feel what that feels like. The Kingdom of God has come near you.