In signature style, Mark the evangelist presents us with this punchy gospel passage. There’s a lot going on here. First, we have Simon and his buddies who have brought home their new friend, Jesus. Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a cold, and not knowing what they’re going to do about dinner they get Jesus to heal her so she can get up and prepare some food.
There is some commentary on women’s roles here as well as some dark humour on the part of the evangelist, for sure. While many have been chasing after Jesus to be served, to receive something from him, it is Simon's mother in law who, as soon as her fever is lifted, immediately sets her mind to service. She is the embodiment, the example par excellence of one of the central tenants of Jesus' mission: “I have come not to be served, but to serve” Jesus will later say to his followers. “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
The scene continues. People are practically knocking down the door to see Jesus. Among the crowd are those who are called demon-possessed. They have a bit of a reputation for being what is known in some African cultures as “praise singers.” Monte Tugwete---who will be preaching here at the 530 St Brigids service next month---he is currently discerning for the priesthood. He recently preached a sermon where he talked about these “praise singers” or “ego massagers”. These are the folks who get you so focused on your ego that within a matter of seconds they’ve “taken you to the cleaners!” says Monte. The goal of the praise singer is to distract you from looking outside of yourself, to narrow your focus in order to take advantage of you, to throw you off course.
So at Simon’s mother in law’s house, there are a number of these praise singers. “My, my, you’re the Son of God!” we can imagine them saying. And Jesus dismisses them as quickly as they come, not wanting to be distracted from the breadth of the work that is before him, not wanting to be confined to his own ego.
Then the narrative really picks up. Everyone is asleep. Simon and his friends wake up and realize Jesus is gone. (What if Simon’s mother in law wakes up with that fever again and there’s nothing for breakfast?).
So “Simon and his companions hunted for him” the text says.
Hunted. What an interesting word in this New Revised Standard Version of the Bible that we heard this evening. Most other English translations have “they followed after him” or “they went looking for him.” I like “they hunted for him” because it picks up on some other themes from Jesus’ life in terms of how people seek after him when they are unsure of his whereabouts. Think of King Herod when Jesus is born, when he learns of a potential uprising with the birth of this newborn Messiah. The instructions Herod gives to the Magi are to “search diligently for the child”, but we know he means “go hunting for him!”
When we read that Simon and his friends hunted for Jesus, it’s a signal that they’re becoming increasingly aware of his power and authority. And not just Jesus’ ability to heal and perform miracles, but his power to rule in such a way that the entire structure of authority gets turned upside down: the poor are lifted up; the rich and mighty brought down from their places of privilege. This is terrifying news for kings like Herod, and balm for the soul for people like Simon and his friends, who are fishermen you’ll recall, their industry and commerce controlled and oppressed by the Roman Empire.
Let's look at this from another angle. Glennon Doyle, in her bestselling book Untamed, she talks about becoming aware of her own power and authority in a way that completely turned her world upside-down. She talks experiencing these Cheetah-like instincts that were oppressed in her conservative Evangelical upbringing. Instincts for same-gender love, instincts for speaking her mind in bold and un-delicate ways as a woman, instincts to actually eat and to nourish her body instead of depriving herself of food in order to remain very small. As she becomes increasingly aware of these instincts she finds herself hunting for this new life. A life that will release her from the confines of what the “praise singers” around her once told her was the only worthy way to live.
“Simon and his companions hunted for Jesus.” There are three lessons from our gospel reading this evening:
First, if your mother in law is sick, ask Jesus to heal her, yes, but then maybe you help with the cooking that night? Where in your life are you called not to be served, but to serve?
Second, consider the spheres of influence and the people that appeal to your ego. In what ways are they supporting your spiritual growth and how might they be distracting you from offering yourself in service to those who fall outside your purview?
Third, as followers of Jesus, I wonder if it's unlikely that we'll stay in the same place theologically or politically for the whole of our Christian journey. Perhaps there are some examples that come to mind right off the bat. Jesus will always call us outward, to expand our worldviews, to engage those instincts that inspire us to go hunting after a life worthy of the humanity we are called to embody.
When Simon and his friends find Jesus after they've been searching for him, they try to get him to come back inside, to collapse his focus inward again. “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns,” Jesus says, “so that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I came out to do.”