If this week’s passage from Mark 1:29-39 was played out on the big screen, it would be a montage: a series of brief images, in rapid succession, that imply the passage of time and the progress of the narrative. After healing Simon’s mother-in-law, Jesus heals people in a large gathering from a wide range of maladies. Although these other people may not have names and faces, it would seem that the sheer volume of those healed in quick succession bears the far-reaching implications of Jesus’s ministry.
In the fast-paced rhythm of Mark’s Gospel, we are led to assume that what happened here, happened in many places. Thus, the montage effect. In the span of thirty seconds, we glimpse the bigger picture of what life was about in those days. Notice, then, the importance of the “quiet place,” where Jesus takes himself to pray. That Sabbath moment appears as a stark contrast in what is otherwise a flurry of activity. The eye at the heart of a frenzied storm. And, of course, they come looking for him. “Everyone is searching for you.” Well, wouldn’t they be?
After they’ve seen what can be done in his presence? Renewed in prayer, Jesus gets up and goes to the next place. There will be more teaching, more preaching, more healing of the masses. Perhaps he is ready—renewed in the spirit by his brief time of silence. While here we are certainly focusing on the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law—and the way in which she went about her work after being made well—this could also be a valuable opportunity for us especially in the church to examine our focus and practices – our mission if you like.
It’s something to reflect on for all people in their daily lives. Are we rushing through a packed program year, trying to be all things to all people, engaging in a flurry of high-energy activity, without pausing to fully renew ourselves – and as Christians this would be in worship, prayer, meditation, contemplation or at a retreat. If we are rushing then, how can we realign and re-imagine our shared lives – to focus on the meaning of life – as Christians to look at ministry in ways that more faithfully mirror the Jesus kind of rhythm—seeking a stillness in the heart of all the movement, where we can be made new for the journey ahead.
Turn on the news and see if you can find an up-to-the minute story of peaceful protest: people showing up for racial justice, an end to hunger, or a ceasefire. Any place where people are standing still and silent in the midst of chaos. What can we learn from those modern-day images, and similar figures throughout history, about how to be a prayerful presence in the midst of great movement and change?
And, we don’t need one of the writers of Isaiah (also part of this week’s readings), acting like a prophet-in-residence, to remind us that “the grass withers, and the flower fades ...” The Israelites and us have lived with withering and fading for years! Climate Change is certainly making that real for us. We know, in our weary bones, that even a return from wilderness does not mean immortality. But that communal awareness of finitude renders the poetry of this writer in Isaiah all the more powerful: all is not lost. God still holds power over all the oppressive powers of earth, and even transcends the body’s weakness in age.
Even the oldest and most frail among them will be given flight. This passage from Isaiah, has the potential for us to be reminded that in our human smallness, the grandeur of God is made known. If we need to see how this works in real time, maybe a field trip to a national park is in order. Or at the very least a guided meditation. Again, that thought of having time for prayerful presence, a time for mindfulness.
For me the I see in my mind the refreshing waters cascading down mountains into green bush areas in the Southern Alps of NZ or in the Deserts of Australia or even in some small chasm of Zion, as places where we glimpse that thin place where we end, and the next holy thing begins. So, as you read this I hope that God may come to you and be known to you in the stillness and that we all may find the holy in our smallness and be made known to us in our ordinary rhythms of life through love and grace.