A Long Sabbath Day

Mark 1:29-39
David A. Davis
February 4, 2024
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The ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark launches with one long sabbath day. One very long sabbath day. Mark tells that right after Jesus calls his new disciples from their nets they go to Capernaum. When the sabbath day comes, Jesus heads to the synagogue to teach. All of the worshippers that sabbath morning are astounded at this teaching and how he commanded the room with such authority. In the midst of his teaching he silences what the bible calls “an unclean spirit” healing a tormented man. People are even more amazed and word spread quickly that very day. When the synagogue service finishes, they go to Simon and Andrew’s house. As soon as they arrived and before brunch, the people in the house tell Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law. Right after Jesus rids her of the fever, she begins to work on the meal. One wonders if they told Jesus about the woman’s illness right away because no one else in the house could cook.

By sundown that long sabbath day, people all over town are talking about what they had seen and heard. A crowd gathers outside on the doorstep of Peter and Andrew’s house. People bring family members and friends who were sick. As Mark puts it, “the whole city was gathered around the door.” That is less of a head count and more of a way of saying “everyone” was there. Healing and casting out, healing and casting out, healing and casting out. It must have taken Jesus well into the night. Morning teaching, an eventful brunch, and evening healing service. By any measure, a long sabbath day.

Sometime way before sunrise, “while it was still very dark”, Jesus gets up and goes out to find a place to be alone and to pray. When the others in the house wake up Jesus is no where to be found. Simon and the other still wet behind the ears disciples go out to find Jesus. They were not just looking for Jesus, they “hunted” for him. It’s strong word with all sorts of connotations. One not at all common in the New Testament. I can’t find another example of the word in the gospels. They hunted for him. Last week Dr. Barreto preached on Luke 15 and Jesus’ parables of lost things. The woman who lost a coin “searched carefully”, she didn’t hunt for it. It’s a different word in Greek. Simon and his companions who had witnessed a long sabbath day full of healing and cleansing and teaching, they went hunting for Jesus until they found him.

“Everyone is searching for you” Everyone. It must have been spoken with a bit exasperation or frustration. Everyone is looking for you Jesus! “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.” Jesus then went “throughout Galilee”.  Simon hunted for Jesus until he found him expecting to take him back to the front step crowd waiting for more. Everyone is looking for you Jesus! Jesus stood up, looked at Simon, and after that very long sabbath day in Capernaum, Jesus said “Here we go!” and walked off in the other direction. There is something so relatable here to our encounter with Jesus the Christ, to our journey of faith him, to our questions and our wrestling. Our desire to have this who faith thing figure out. You know there were folks who arrived at dawn back at the house who hadn’t been healed yet. What about them Jesus? Mark says Jesus healed “many” not “all”. Just when everyone in Capernaum thought they had this all figured out, they had him all figured out, Jesus said “Let us go on”.

I have seen more live productions of the musical Godspell than I can count. I know it’s a “my generation, my time period” kind of thing. I know every word of every song. The only live event I have been to more is a Bruce Springsteen concert. A long time ago Cathy and I went to see Godspell in an arts center on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania that used to be a church. The staging of the play was such that it happened all around and in the audience. Audience members were essentially sitting on the stage and part of the production. Near end of the play, the Jesus character starts to offer his goodbyes to the company of followers. They formed a circle around him and the circle included the audience. The Jesus character started to make his way around the circle one by one including several audience members as well.

Each character in the play received a unique goodbye that reflected the persona revealed throughout the play. To the athletic, fitness minded follower, Jesus offered a slap on the back and a fake one-two punch to the belly. To the practical joker in the bunch, it was the start of a handshake before pulling and going for a scratch of the head. To the character who was chronically sad throughout, Jesu put a finger under the chin and with the other hand formed a smile with the corners of the mouth. And to the one who had a bit of questionable reputation and lots of relationship history, the Jesus character went in for a hug and then thought better of it.

The unspoken message was incredibly powerful to me as I found myself in that circle. For one thing, and this was never said on that stage, but we all know what happens after those goodbyes. We all know where Jesus is headed. But even more, was this affirmation that hit me hard that night. A takeaway in a little theater in University City Philadelphia that I still cling to all the time. Jesus meets who we are. Jesus meets us where we are. Just as I am without one plea. His eye is on the sparrow, I know he watches me.  If that Jesus character that night would have greeted me, said good by to me on that stage, I would have lost it. I mean ugly crying, shoulders heaving and all and Cathy rolling her eyes at the crier she married. Jesus knows…me.

But here in Mark, here in our text for this morning, there is difference, a big difference between being known by Jesus, being known by God and thinking we know, that we have it all figured out, this Jesus, this gospel. When Simon and the others went “hunting” for Jesus, the intensity or the negative weightiness of the verb shouldn’t be lost. Most English translations drop it with some version of “they just went looking for Jesus.” The Common English Version doesn’t leans in: “Simon and those with him tracked Jesus down. When they found him, they told him ‘Everyone’s looking for you’. Jesus replied, ‘Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too.”

Simon hunted for and tracked down Jesus on behalf of everyone convinced they had seen and heard and now knew everything about him. He hunted for and tracked down Jesus for all those who wanted to keep Jesus for themselves. Simon hunted for and tracked down Jesus  on behalf of those who were so absolutely sure who Jesus was and what Jesus about and what Jesus could do for them. A careful read of the first day of Jesus’ ministry in Mark is a bit of a cautionary tale for all of us who think we know Jesus, we know Jesus completely, we know Jesus better than the rest. There is a word of caution for any who fall prey to molding and shaping a Jesus of their own making, a Savior of their own liking. It is a red flag for any of us followers of Jesus who come to the conclusion that Jesus always thinks like we do and agrees with us all the time. This long sabbath day in Mark is a rapid fire introduction to the ministry of Jesus that flashed from scene to scene (teacher, spirit remover, healer, crowd attracter, solitary pray-er). And just as Mark seems to be suggesting that this Jesus offers a bit of everything for everyone, just when the crowds are trying to horde Jesus for themselves, Jesus speaks of what he came out to do. Jesus reminds the reader that there’s difference between being known and thinking we know.

“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.” Proclaim the message. That message is what Mark calls “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…….Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying ‘the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.’” (Mk. 1:14) The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. A kingdom where the lame walk and the sick are healed and the hungry are fed. A kingdom where swords are smashed into plowshares and the most powerful are brought low and dividing walls are town down and outcasts are welcome. Jesus didn’t come to simply be all things for all people. He came to fulfill the very kingdom of God.

Part of the uniqueness of the Gospel Mark, the shortest of the four gospels, what ought to strike you when you take your place on this stage where the gospel plays out all around you, what one should never miss when reading Mark is that you are never far from the ending. No matter where you are in Mark, your close to the end. We all know how this is going to end. So after a long sabbath day right in chapter one, when Simon and his companions hunt down Jesus for all of us who think we have it now and forever figured out, Jesus turns and points. He tells Simon that what he came to do was proclaim the message and he points in the other direction. But he’s not just pointing to the neighboring towns and villages. When Jesus says to Simon, “let’s go on”, Jesus is pointing all the way to the cross. Pointing for the unclean spirits who yell his name, for the followers who try to track him down, for the reader drawn in once again, for all of us who think we know, for all of us, Jesus points all the way to the cross and says “that is what I came out to do.”

When you stand at the foot of the cross trying to comprehend his dying love for you, for you as you are, where you are, who you are?  There comes this overwhelming takeaway to cling to forever. When it comes to Jesus, his gospel, and his love for you, it is something you can never figure out. No. It is much, much more of a gift for you to receive.