Sunday, February 08, 2015

Sermon; Epiphany 5B; Mark 1:29-39

Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her and she began to serve them.

This passage has caused some tension between the sexes over the years, especially in the day and age of the modern, liberated woman.  Unfortunately this is one of many places that men have used to say, “See, the Bible CLEARLY says women are to serve men.”  And, unfortunately, it has been used by some men to keep women in positions of servitude and out of leadership roles.  With this sort of dominant, and domineering, interpretation, I wonder how many women have been pushed out to the margins, felt under-valued or devalued, or have taken on a submissive role because “that's what the Bible clearly says.”

Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her and she began to serve them.

“See,” they say, “as soon as she was healed she began to serve the men (some translations have 'wait on them,' and one has, 'make dinner for them').”

This interpretation, though, is a misreading and abuse of Scripture, because Scripture should never be used to dominate or marginalize anyone.

How might we look at this passage in a different way?

Let's begin with the healing of Simon's mother-in-law.  In Mark's gospel, this is the first incident of a physical healing.  Last week we heard Jesus perform an exorcism, but that wasn't a physical healing; there's a difference.  In comparing these two miracle stories, Mark is telling us that Jesus heals all people, both men and women, of all sorts, both strangers and friends, equally, and in all places, both public and private.

And after she was healed, she began to serve them.

It needs to be pointed out that she did not become subservient to the men, she served the men.  Serving is different than subservience.  Subservience is a form of subordination.  Subservience is akin to being excessively submissive.  Subservience implies a power structure based on inequality and domination.

Serving is something entirely different, especially in the context of the gospels.  To serve in a gospel context is to willingly put yourself in a position that honors another.  To serve in a gospel context is to know your needs have been met and to then focus on the needs of others.  To serve in a gospel context is to offer something of value to another person with no thought of repayment.  To serve in a gospel context is to follow Christ who said, “I came not to be served, but to serve.”

What Simon's mother-in-law did was to follow the still-unannounced example of Jesus in serving others.  Simon's mother-in-law was the first person to deny herself and take up her cross.  She was the first person to understand that the first are the last, and the last are the first.  She was the first person to understand that greatness comes in the form of service.

In this our earliest gospel, Mark makes it crystal clear that Jesus sees no distinction between male or female, stranger or friend.

Contrast her behavior with that of her son-in-law, Simon Peter, first named of the disciples, upon whom the church is built.

Early in the morning, while all those who came to be healed slept, Jesus slipped out the back door to find a quiet place to pray.  Finding a deserted place, he sat down for some quiet time with God.

As the sun crested the hills and the morning light drew people out of their sleep, they began to look for Jesus.  Simon hears the commotion and goes out to address all the sick, lame, diseased and possessed.

“Calm down,” he says.  “You all wait here while my friends and I go find Jesus and bring him back for you.  Just . . . stay here; we don't need a mob scene.”  And off they go to find Jesus and bring him back.

Simon and the boys head out, leaving all the people who have gathered around his house alone.  He does nothing to help them himself.  He does nothing to arrange for their aid.  He gives nothing of a caring response.  Instead of getting personally involved, instead of serving others, he runs off to find Jesus, placing the burden of their care back on him.

Although we don't think of Mark as a pro-woman gospel – that usually gets ascribed to Luke – he really does show women in a much more favorable light than the male disciples.

Like last week, this is an Epiphany gospel in that we are invited to come and see the new thing God is doing.  Come and see that Jesus makes no distinction between male and female, friend or stranger, national or foreigner.

Come and see that serving is not the same as subservience.

Come and see how Jesus is calling us to do more for those gathered at our door than look for someone else to care for them.

Come and see, and experience an Epiphany.



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