Perfect Light of revelation,
as you shone in the life of Jesus,
whose epiphany we celebrate,
so shine in us and through us,
that we may become beacons of truth and compassion,
enlightening all creation with deeds of justice and mercy. Amen
Revised Common Lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany may be found here.
It’s February! For many, especially those of us in colder climes, February can be the dreariest month of the year; for preachers, it’s a time when we are working our way through the end of Epiphany into the season of Lent. RCL preachers, this year following the Gospel according to Mark, have moved rapidly from Jesus’ baptism to the calling of the disciples to the beginning of his ministry. After Jesus’ “teaching with authority” in the synagogue, and the casting out of the demon, we find Jesus in the house of Simon, whose mother-in-law lies ill. Jesus heals her, and she rises to serve those present.
Even though the word is not used, Mark’s theme of things happening “immediately” is present here. There is no hesitation, there are no preliminaries. Jesus heals her straight off, and she returns to her duties, providing hospitality for all present, apparently without taking any time to rest and recuperate. This can raise our hackles – couldn’t Simon have provided some assistance? Where were the rest of the family? While concern for Simon’s mother-in-law might be valid, to go too far down that path risks missing things more important: when Jesus healed her, it was a complete and sufficient healing. She was completely restored, and she returned to her position as host, maintaining her honor in the household, something we should not underestimate.
A different path to consider is Jesus’ willingness to heal and cast out demons (not necessarily the same thing), and his compassion for all who were brought to him. True to Mark’s style, we don’t get many details, but clearly Jesus is continuing to demonstrate his authority, and his command over the powers of evil in a sort of understated way. I continue to be intrigued by the way demons, forces of evil, seem to recognize that power and authority as soon as they encounter it. What might this say to us about Jesus’ power and authority in our world? About how we might grapple with “evil” in our own contexts? And what does this tell us about Jesus’ availability to those who come to him?
Another possible homiletical thread is Jesus’ own reliance on prayer as he continues his ministry. After a busy night of ministering to the needs of the community, Jesus seeks out a quiet place to pray before going on. This, too, is a theme in Mark’s gospel, and I think it models for us a pattern of life to follow. We all assume that prayer is an important part of our lives as people of faith, but perhaps we might be even more intentional about turning to prayer to sustain us and support us as we go about our daily lives and as we continue to discern where God is calling us.
RCL preachers might also turn to Isaiah to give a word of hope. Second Isaiah provides, for the dispersed and exiled Israelites, a reminder of God’s might, a reassurance of God’s care for them, by demonstrating God’s supremacy over the Babylonian deities they’ve encountered exile. The poetic language of Second Isaiah continues to speak powerfully to us when we feel lost or discouraged or alone.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
So, preachers, where are you headed this week? Are you, like I am, preaching in the context of the annual parish meeting? Are you winding up an Epiphany series, or following a theme leading up to Lent? Or are you still searching for your inspiration? Share your thoughts and questions with us here.