At first sight, it may seem that Jesus’ ministry was being defined by healings and exorcisms as he healed Peter’s mother-in-law, as he healed many in the city of Capernaum who were sick with various diseases, and as he cast out many demons, but things are not always what they appear to be.
Rev. Jim Sommerville, lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia tells of a man he knew by the name of Greg who was confined to a wheelchair. Jim says he was a university professor who was about Jim’s age who had not always been confined to a wheelchair. The journey that led to Greg being in a wheelchair started one afternoon when he was a teenager and had played basketball with his brother. When he woke up the next morning, Greg could not feel his legs and he could not walk. Jim says it was the kind of tragedy can make you bitter, or it can make you better. In Greg’s case it made him better.
He began to focus his energies on his studies, exploring his love for mathematics and eventually producing a 600-page doctoral dissertation. After his father’s death Greg was a great comfort to his mother and somehow in his care for her and her care for him, she made it through her grief. She told Jim once about her son, Greg: “He’s the best person I know.” He is the best person a lot of people know. He is patient, and thoughtful, and funny, and wise. He is loved by the people of that little town, by his students at the university, and by the members of his church family. It was one of those— a member of his church family— who once asked me what I would do if I were Jesus. “If I were Jesus?” “Yeah. What would you do?” “Hmm . . . I guess I would try to do the things Jesus did. I mean I’m not sure I could improve on that. How about you?” He was quiet for a moment, thoughtful, and then he said, “I would heal Greg.” And then we were both quiet, imagining Greg getting up out of that chair, standing straight and tall, taking his first steps in more than thirty years. If my friend were Jesus, that’s what he would do. Which raised for both of us the question: Why didn’t Jesus do it?
In today’s Gospel lesson, we read that two of the early manifestations of Jesus’ ministry were healing the sick and casting out unclean spirits. In a continuation from last Sunday’s scripture reading where Jesus cast out an unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue, we read that Jesus went to Simon Peter’s house where Jesus found Simon Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with a high fever. Taking her hand, Jesus lifted her up. Immediately the fever left her and she began to serve them their dinner. By the time evening rolled around, seemingly everybody in Capernaum who knew someone who was sick or someone who was possessed had gathered outside the door of the house where Jesus was a guest.
Whatever their reasons, everybody in the little town of Capernaum found some reason to be outside the door where Jesus was hoping that Jesus could heal or cast out unclean spirits. Mark tells us that he did both as he worked late into the evening, but I was struck by the way Mark described the results of Jesus’ healing and casting out demons,
“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.”
Note that Mark states that Jesus cured many, not that Jesus cured all. Note that Mark states Jesus cast out many demons, not that Jesus cast out all demons.
Which raises the question, why didn’t Jesus do it? In the Gospel According to Mark, why didn’t Jesus cure all who were sick and why didn’t Jesus cast demons out of all who were possessed as he did in the Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Luke?
Could it be that Jesus went to a deserted place to pray in Mark 1:35 because he was wrestling with the same question of why didn’t he cure all people and cast out all the demons? Could it be that Jesus was wrestling with the question of God’s call upon his life as Mark reports that “in the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Whatever the reason or question, Mark reports that it was in a deserted Mark reports that it was in a deserted place that Simon and his companions found Jesus praying as they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” What they were really saying was everyone wants to be healed by you and have demons cast out by you.
Whatever the reason, it was in a deserted place where Jesus went to pray after he healed many of the sick and cast out many out many demons. It was in a deserted place where Simon and his companions discovered that things are not always what they appear to be. It was in a deserted place that Jesus confirmed the true purpose of his ministry, “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. And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
Whatever the reason, it is in the deserted places of life, those places of unanswered and unanswerable questions, that followers of Jesus are called to live with faith in Jesus. It is in the deserted places of life, when all we can do is pray, that followers of Jesus proclaim faith in Jesus. It is in the deserted places of life when all we can do is search for Jesus that followers of Jesus proclaim the message of who Jesus is. It is in the deserted places that followers of Jesus realize that things are not always what they appear to be as we are met by our Savior who went to a deserted place to pray.
A Deserted Place
by Pastor Marc Brown
February 4, 2024
Accompanying Scriptures: Mark 1:29-39
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for February 4, 2024
Scripture Lesson Mark 1:29-39
The Good News “A Deserted Place”
Music “Immortal, Invisible” Hymn #103
Closing Music “Just When I Need Him Most” by Donna Williams