When last we saw Jesus of Nazareth, he was in the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath, teaching (and preaching love, I think) with authority. And while he was there he had healed a man with an unclean spirit. This caused folks to sit up and take notice. Who is this guy?
That same afternoon, Jesus and James and John accompanied Peter and Andrew to their home, presumably for a bite to eat and some downtime after their busy morning. But it was not to be. You see, Peter’s wife’s mother was laid low with a fever. And it must have been a pretty serious, because Jesus went straight to her and zapped whatever it was that was ailing her. Boom. His second healing of the day… and his second on that Sabbath day. Do you see what’s happening here? This is the beginning of another new teaching… or perhaps it’s an old teaching that Jesus is reinterpreting with authority. A teaching that reminds us that our true calling on the Sabbath is to honor God… not simply by trying extra hard to be good, or by strict obedience to a bunch of “churchy” rules, but by taking a “time out” each week from the concerns that regularly consume us: working, paying bills, doing household chores, and the like… to rededicate ourselves to the purpose for which we were created, which is to love and serve God and one another by helping to bring about the Kingdom of God in our homes, and in our communities and in the whole wide world. That’s the purpose of Sabbath and that’s what Jesus did when he healed Peter’s mom in law. He brought just a little bit of God’s Kingdom home to that family that day. It sheds a whole new light on what it might mean to us, as followers of Jesus, to be about our Father’s business on the Sabbath day and every day… don’t you think?
And so, Peter’s mother-in-law was lifted up, or perhaps she even jumped up, and began to serve Jesus and his friends. I’ve heard a few preachers wax a little bit “snarky” about this part of the story—that Jesus would have allowed this poor woman to get up and serve him, after having so recently been ill. But you know what? I’m pretty sure that after Jesus healed her, Peter’s mother-in-law had never felt better in her life. That’s number one. And, number two, taking care of visitors in your home was almost a sacred responsibility in that part of the world back in those days, Sabbath or no Sabbath. And it still is. Providing hospitality to strangers is right up there with honoring God. So, Jesus wisely and lovingly let her do her bit to help bring about the Kingdom. I doubt she’d have had it any other way.
I hope Jesus got at least a couple of hours of rest, maybe even a nap, because, when evening came… the floodgates opened. The Sabbath ended at sunset and it seemed as if the entire town of Capernaum showed up on Peter and Andrew’s doorstep to see Jesus… and they brought all of their sick and crazy friends and relatives with them. Capernaum was a pretty good-sized fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, back in the day, with a population of around 1,500 souls, so it must have been quite a confab… and a lot of work for Jesus! I imagine him standing there in the middle of the crowd, surrounded by people with outstretched hands, healing the sick, casting out demons, right and left, lifting them up… without a break, hour after hour, as the dusk turned to night. That’s revival, my friends. And that’s what I think of when I hear “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15).
But I expect Jesus must have been exhausted afterwards! I know I’m pretty warn out after leading adult formation and celebrating Eucharist on Sundays. Jesus must have been pooped. He was human, after all. Notice I didn’t say only human. He most certainly wasn’t only human. But he was fully-human, with all of the biological needs and requirements for rest and sustenance that that entails. And yet, he was up bright and early the next morning to take his message further down the road to the next place and the next gathering of seekers… and the next… and the next. Because that’s what he had come to do. That was his purpose.
And you and I have a purpose too, don’t we? And you know what that purpose is. At least, I hope you do… after having listened to me preach to you from this pulpit week after week for the last two-and-a-half years. In our Gospel story today, Jesus has just begun his three years of active ministry. And his purpose, spreading the Good News of God’s Salvation… and bringing the people back into covenant relationship with their Creator… thus helping to bring about God’s Kingdom on earth… is also our purpose. We are to be the hands and feet of Christ as we continue his ministry to a world in great need of hope. We are called to be Kingdom Bringers. It’s a lot of work. And it can seem daunting sometimes. But we needn’t fear the work. And we needn’t shy away from it. We must embrace it. Because (and I can’t say this too often) it’s why we’re here! The reason we’re alive! And when we give in—and live in—to the purpose God intends for us, we’ll find that we are lifted up, like Peter’s mother-in-law, and given the strength and fortitude to do the work that is set before us.
I am reminded of the words of J. Neil Alexander, way back in the Fall of 2011, near the end of his decade long tenure as the 9th Bishop of Atlanta. In an interview for the Diocesan journal Pathways entitled, “The Curious Life of a Diocesan Bishop,” Bp. Alexander was asked how he had managed to cope with all of the responsibilities of his office, the incessant and sometimes conflicting demands of people, places and priorities. He confided that yes, the hours were long and the work sometimes stressful but, he continued, “Remember what it means to bear a vocation, a calling. When one’s vocation is a good fit, like a comfortable shoe, then the burdens of the vocation are manageable. That doesn’t mean you’re not tired and weary with sore feet, but it is a livable, perhaps even energizing burden, because the shoe fits.”
So, here’s the thing my brothers and sisters: you were created for a purpose, and the work you’ve been called to do, your vocation for the cause of Christ, is cut out for you. It’s right there in front of you. Every day. If you open your eyes, and your ears, and your heart, you’ll find that you’ll never be short of opportunities to continue Jesus’ work in the world: loving and serving God and your neighbor. The work will be difficult, and the pace unrelenting, but don’t worry… you’ll be given what you need to get the job done. God will never leave you hanging. And your reward will be more than you could ever ask for or imagine.