4 January 2016Mark 1:29-39 (Jesus heals many at Simon's house)
“That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” (vv. 32-34)
Psalm: Psalm 2:1-8
Why is it that in the season of Christmas we are being asked to read stories of Christ's healing miracles?
The first half of Mark's Gospel is written to provoke the question, "But who do you say that I am?" (Mark 8:29). The question is already answered at the start of the Gospel where it states unequivocally that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God (Mark 1:1). He goes on to demonstrate who Jesus is by describing what Jesus does: he teaches with amazing authority (Mark 1:22); he casts out demons (Mark 1:26) and now he heals. Later he will command wind and waves (Mark 4:39), exorcise a legion of demons (Mark 5:13-15) and feed the hungry (Mark 6:42). Who else would be able to do these things but God's anointed (Messiah)?
Thus, reading the early chapters of Mark's Gospel in this season help us to think about the identity of the baby in the manger. For Christians, this is no ordinary baby. Rather, here God's very self is being revealed.
This is an extraordinary claim, but how convincing are these miracles in persuading us that Jesus is God in human flesh? Surely prophets had long been recognised in Israel by their ability to perform miracles? Why would we make the leap to decide with Mark that Jesus is divine?
These are centuries old mysteries that Christians have wrestled hard in every generation to put into words. Yet somehow when many people encountered Jesus they recognised not just a prophet like Elijah, but God's very self present with them. Chief amongst those who could perceive Jesus' identity were the demons (verse 34) who instantly knew just who they were up against.
Throughout Mark's Gospel Jesus is very keen that whilst he proclaims God's kingdom, he does not go around telling people that he is God. Rather, he wants people to come to recognise him for themselves. He doesn't want spectators who are impressed by miracles and wonders. Instead, he wants disciples, who, like Simon Peter's mother-in-law, are lifted up by their contact with him, to realize that they are in the presence of God's very self; disciples whose instinct then is to want to serve him (verse 31).
- What evidence do you think there is that Jesus was not only a prophet but divine?
- What do you think was the message Jesus came to proclaim (verse 38)?
- Feminist theologians have struggled with the fact that the first thing Simon Peter's mother-in-law does on recovering from her fever is feed her son and his friends (verse 31). What do you make of this part of the story?