David A. Davis
February 4, 2018
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It was evening, just as the sun was setting. Earlier in the day Jesus had been teaching in the synagogue. After he left there, he went to with James and John to the house of Simon and Andrew. There at the house he healed Simon’s mother-in-law. It was after that, after the teaching, the healing, just as the sun was setting, that they brought to Jesus all who were sick and those who were thought to possess a demon. As Mark records it, “the whole city was gathered around the door.” The whole town was on the doorstep. Everyone was there at the house, including all who were sick. Capernaum turned out to see Jesus. He didn’t need a key to the city. The whole city came to him.
Careful Gospel readers might jot a note about how the text indicates that “he cured many” and “he cast out many.” Many, not all. Matthew indicates early in his Gospel that “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (Mt. 4:23). Luke writes of how “all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and Jesus laid his hands on each of them and cured them” (Lk 4:40). Here in Mark, the whole town was on the doorstep and he healed many, he cast out many, not all.
“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up.” In the morning, but still very dark. This was something other than early rising. This wasn’t just as dawn was breaking or just before sunrise. This was morning and still very dark. This was the kind of time of morning when babies wake up to nurse. This is the kind of time of morning when someone is up because sleep won’t come, because the worry won’t stop, because the mind and the heart keep racing. This was not the discipline of getting a start to the day. This was more like getting up so as to ease the torment of the night. Jesus got up in the morning, when it was still very dark.
And he “went out to a deserted place.” One translation says that he went out to a solitary place. But the description of the place here in the text is stronger than that. The word in the Greek relates not just to a lonely place, but to a wilderness place. Like earlier in the first chapter of Mark when, right after his baptism, “the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness” to be tempted by Satan and to hang with wild beasts and to be waited on by angels. The place Jesus went when it was morning but still very dark was a deserted, wilderness place. A place like he had been before.
In the region of Israel and Palestine the wilderness areas refer to arid, desert-like, windswept mountainous regions below Jerusalem and to the south, toward the Dead Sea. In contrast, the landscape around the Sea of Galilee in the north is lush, fertile, green. The area around Capernaum, spots within walking distance in the darkest part of the morning, are hardly what would be called “wilderness” by regional, topographical standards.
So this deserted, wilderness place of prayer when it was still very dark, it bears a deeper connotation. Jesus was not heading out for morning devotions, the first prayer office of the day. This was Jesus gutting it out in prayer. Jesus bearing his soul. Like Jesus in the wilderness to be taunted by the devil. Like Jesus outside the garden pleading for God to take the cup from him. Like Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, “If only you recognized the things that make for peace.” It was that kind of spiritual space for Jesus. There he went and prayed.
“Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’” They hunted for him. No mention of someone waking up and realizing he was gone, or maybe someone who was responsible for standing watch by night. Just: they hunted for him. The King James softens it as the text indicates “they followed him,” almost like it was part of their discipleship, a following thing. But some scholars point out that the Greek word for hunted here is much stronger: hunted, chased, pursued. They didn’t just follow him; they hunted for him.
They hunted for him in the way a parent goes looking for a child who is late coming home from a party. The parent who has no trouble going to knock on the door of that house, knowing that if there is any adult in the house at all they’re probably asleep. The parent has absolutely no concern at all about embarrassing the 17-year-old in front of friends and everybody there — and God for that matter. “Excuse me! Do you know what time it is. What are you doing here! I have been looking all over for you. Do you know what it’s like driving around at this hour not knowing where you are? I have been hunting for you.”
The implication in Mark, chapter 1, must be that they went after him with more intentionality than just looking for him. They went after him with a bit of attitude, determination, haste. They hunted him down. “Don’t you know that everyone is searching for you… what are you doing here… what the heck… the whole town was on that doorstep… and there’s more to do… you cured many, you cast out many, many, but not all. Come on, all of Capernaum is waiting.” They hunted for him and when they found him they gave him the “what for” about all the healing, all the need, all the brokenness, all of the humanity waiting for him back in Capernaum.
Who knows? Maybe his struggle in prayer was about the magnitude of one day’s accumulation of human suffering. Maybe what woke him up, kept him up, got him up was the sheer amount of work that he was getting himself into, how much there was to do. Maybe his dark night of the soul was related to his own realization that they had to move on from there, even when there was more need to be met, more love to be shared, more kingdom work to do. Who knows?
What he said to Simon and the others who came hunting for him was “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Here is where some would stress the importance of “proclaiming the message.” That Christ came to proclaim, to preach, to announce, to tell the Good News. The healings and miracles are all in service to, signs that point to, what Mark defines in 1:1 as “The good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This thread of an argument suggests that rather than let miracles and healings become “the thing,” Jesus moves on to affirm that the gospel, and proclaiming the gospel, is why he came. “That is what I came out to do,” he told them as they headed out, and according to Mark “he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
It makes sense when you read it, that proclaiming the message is what he came out to do. Jesus says it. Mark repeats. Proclaim the message. But what if also, what if in addition, what if another way to read it is that what he came out to do was to go on to neighboring towns. “This is what I came out to do… to go on to neighboring towns, not to stay here, to go throughout Galilee, to proclaim the message to others, not to stay here, to preach not just to you, but to them. We have to go.”
And the whole town of Capernaum that was on the doorstep? They were left in a huff that morning, what the Bible would describe as a whole lot of moaning and grumbling. Because they were hunting for him. There was more healing to do. They wanted to keep Jesus for themselves. They wanted to hoard Jesus and he knew it. It kept him up that night. For the sake of the gospel, he had to go on.
Hoarding Jesus. The disciples and keeping Jesus to themselves. Like at the Mount of Transfiguration when Peter wants to build the booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, so they could all stay there and preserve the moment. Like when the mother of James and John asks Jesus to give them each a seat at his right and at his left in the kingdom. Like when the disciples were “astonished” that he would be speaking to a Samaritan woman.
Like when they sternly told all those parents, with children trying to get to Jesus, to “go away, not now.” Like those who told the blind beggar by the side of the road to be quiet. Like when the disciples were angry when the woman anointed Jesus with the expensive perfume. Like at the empty tomb, when the disciples held on the feet of the Risen Christ, when they tried to cling to Jesus.
That morning, when it was still really dark, somewhere near Capernaum, they hunted for Jesus. It wasn’t a following thing. It was a “keeping Jesus for themselves” kind of thing.
Hoarding Jesus. When the followers of Jesus think the good news of the gospel is just for them, or is more important to them, or is, first and foremost, really about them. When those who take the name of Christian turn Jesus into a Christ of their own making, a Jesus who agrees with everything they already believe and a Jesus who will excuse or understand or rationalize along with them, everything they do.
Hunting down Jesus. In a time when public figures and political discourse and cable news and tax policy turn pretty much everything, reduce everything, bring everything back to us vs. them, those who want to keep Jesus to themselves of course think Jesus is for them and no one else. They misconstrue the profound theological affirmation of the likes of Bonhoeffer and Barth that “Christ is for us” into a sinful game of winners and losers that assumes Jesus is for us and not for them. But when it comes to the Jesus of the gospels, and the poor, and the stranger, and the foreigner, and the unclean, and the different, and the sick, it is clearly “Christ for them.”
When you cling to Jesus, you head into interfaith relationships more concerned about pure doctrine than courageous love. You err on the side of judgement rather than grace because its more important to be right than to be faithful. You yearn for a faith life, a church life, a religious life that used to be rather than boldly looking to what God has in store in the days to come.
You slip down that slope of thinking the world could be going down the drain in terms of justice and righteousness but as long as you and Jesus are good, as long as you are sure of your own salvation in him, it’s all okay. When you try to keep Jesus all for yourself, it’s just too easy to make decisions, come to conclusions, form opinions all in his name that are hurtful to others.
It’s bound to happen, when you crave a Jesus of your own image, that you come off sounding and acting like that Pharisee who gave thanks that he was not like those others: the tax collectors, the sinners, the spiritual but not religious, the Roman Catholics, the evangelical right, the liberal left, the new-agers, the atheists, the Red State voters, the liberal elites, on and on and on. When you try to cling to Jesus with both hands, you don’t have to worry about patting yourself on the back, because you believe your Jesus is already doing that for you, thank you very much.
Here at this table, as you feast again on this love and grace and promise, remember that Jesus never said, “Take, eat, this is my body broken… just for you.”
© 2018 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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