Summary: Jesus' ministry pulls him in two directions: very close to the person in need and outwards to encounter all people. Our first instinct is to keep Jesus solely for ourselves. But as his divine grace lifts us up, he calls us outward into our lives of purpose
February 7, 2021
Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Mary Erickson
From the Street Where You Live to the Faraway Towns
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
When I go for a walk along a neighborhood street, I like to look at the houses. What makes this house unique? Did anyone add onto it at some stage? The physical structures of the houses are interesting. However, what fills me with awe is when I start thinking about who dwells in each house.
Every one of them is home to someone or some family. My husband and I live in a certain house, under a particular roof. And we have a story unique to us. The same is true of the people living under each and every roof. Their story, their life drama, is unique unto them. They have joys and sorrows, they face challenges and fears known only by them. Their histories contain triumphs and trials, promise and pain. Which one is facing crisis? Who is looking forward to the promise of tomorrow? Who finds it hard to sleep at night because of worry? Is there strife and conflict dis-easing relationships therein? Each house contains its own mixture of hopes and challenges.
Each dwelling, a different story. One spiritual practice you can do when you go for a walk is to pray your neighborhood. As you pass each house, lift up to God the mystery of the people living there. You don’t know what they’re facing, but God does. God knows their situation intimately.
Something like that happens in our gospel reading for today. You might remember that last week, Jesus attended the Sabbath worship in Capernaum at the village synagogue. Something quite remarkable happened there when Jesus cast out an unclean spirit from a man.
After worship is over, Peter heads to his house along with Jesus and the other disciples. What we don’t know, and what Jesus didn’t know, was the crisis going on under that very roof. But Jesus soon finds out. Peter’s mother-in-law has a fever. And this is no small fever. The word denotes a burning fever. She is critically ill.
They tell Jesus about her just as soon as they enter the house. Jesus moves in immediately. He comes up right next to her and takes her by the hand. He lifts her up. Lifts her up – it’s the same word used to describe Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus touches her with the power of rising up.
Immediately the fever leaves her and her vitality is restored. She begins to serve them. That may resonate against our ears as somehow sexist. “The poor woman. Her clothing is still damp from the fever and now she has to toil away in the kitchen!”
But the Greek word is no ordinary service. It’s related to diaconal service. Jesus has restored her to her personal vocation of service in the world. This is what she lives for. This service is her purpose.
This small but marvelous incident shows us how very focused Jesus becomes when he’s concerned for someone. He responded in the very same manner when he encountered the man in the synagogue with the unclean spirit. He is 100% focused on that person! He’s drawn in with laser focus. He’s all about this suffering person!
To both the man at the synagogue and now Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus is completely rapt. His attention isn’t divided. He doesn’t hurry through so he can get on to the next thing. His focus is undivided with concern for them.
After the sun goes down, the Sabbath is officially over. People now start lining up in front of Peter’s house! They’ve brought their personal concerns and their loved ones with them. They’ve taken their cares to Jesus. And we can imagine he approaches each one with the same total attention and care as he did to the man in the synagogue and Peter’s mother-in-law.
That night, Jesus steals away to a lonely place to pray. The next morning, the disciples look for him. When they find him, they urge him to return to Capernaum. “Everyone is looking for you!”
But Jesus doesn’t want to return to the streets of Capernaum. There are other communities with streets of their own. There are people in other villages, dwelling under other roofs. He must go to them, too.
We want Jesus to be our homey. We want him to stay close, right on the street where we live. But Jesus’ ministry moves in two directions. It draws close, very close. But it also expands outward, ever outward, like the universe.
We see these two forces at work in Jesus’ ministry. It’s extremely intimate and personal. He’s the good shepherd who calls his sheep by name. He knows the number of hairs on our head.