Unlike the other synoptic gospels that begin with the little baby Jesus, little boy Jesus, and slowly move into his public ministry, Mark takes off. Jesus hits the ground running. So far, he’s been baptized, tested, and chosen disciples. Our text today has him casting out an unclean spirit, healing Simon’s mother, praying in a deserted place, and cleansing a leper. That’s a lot of activity in one chapter. You can find commentary here.
It’s too much!
In Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, Ched Myers’ explains that verses 1:21-39 gives us everything we need to know about the direction of Jesus’ ministry.
The casting out of the unclean spirit announces that Jesus will challenge the authority of the scribes. The spirit challenges Jesus and Jesus’ power. “Have you come to destroy us?” Then the spirit tries the oldest trick in the book—knowing the name of Jesus—to try to get the upper hand. This is a fight. And Jesus is going to win.
Healing Simon’s mother is so much more than medical healing. Myers reminds us that healing is an act of liberation—those who are ill cannot work, and then become subject to poverty. It’s liberation from poverty, from the Roman Empire, from racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and ableism. Staying healthy was so much more than not being sick.
If you consider it a whirlwind of a chapter, you may be even more overwhelmed when you note that everything that happens in verses 21 through 39 happen in one and a half days—beginning on the Friday evening sabbath and ending Sunday morning. Preaching on Friday night, at the local synagogue, and healing and casting out demons all day on Saturday. And I complain about being tired on Sunday night!
But on Sunday morning, Jesus got away from the crowds, from his disciples, away from forging forward against the religious rulers and from resetting the social structures that held the Jewish people in captivity. He took some time out, then started all over again.
It is in this moment that I wonder what is happening in Jesus’ mind. How did Jesus actually get recharged? How could he tolerate the weight of the burden? How could he keep up the pace?
I live in a context where a person’s importance is weighted by how busy her schedule is, where everybody is trying to tell us to find work/life balance, where there’s more work to do and less support to get it done.
I also live in a context where a black child can lose his life and no one is held accountable. Where people are oppressed and killed because of the color of their skin. Where the poor are hungry and ignored, and the rich buy elections.
It’s too much!
There are lots of places to jump into this text.
- Will you jump in castigating the religion rulers, calling them back to real worship?
- Will you show how to work for liberation?
- Will you recognize those in your congregation who are on the precipice of poverty?
- Will you remind your congregation to rest?
- Or will you join Jesus in the break on Sunday morning? A time for prayer, communion with God, away from the maddening crowds?
Or will you just throw up your hands, bury your head, and say, “It’s too much!”?
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