Continuing in Mark’s Gospel, we’re looking at five stories in chapter 1, all with the same basic point. Although they start from different angles, each story ultimately shows how Jesus has authority. So far we’ve seen how Jesus has authority over people, authority to teach, and authority over demons. We now look at two more ways in which Jesus has authority.
Authority over sicknessMk 1:29-34 As soon as [Gk: Immediately] they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately [good on you, NIV] told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
Obviously, in this passage Mark is trying to teach us that unless they are really sick, mothers-in-law should wait on us. (This was so much more fun preaching this with my mother-in-law in the congregation…) There’s also a second story about healing in this chapter:Mark 1:40-44 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
In the two healing miracle stories we see that Jesus has authority over sickness; authority over the powers that have a hold on human life.
To really understand the impact of Jesus’ authority over disease, we have to understand the first view of sickness. These days, we are what we do: if we can’t do what it is we do, there’s something wrong. If we’re a farmer, we farm; if we’re a cook, we cook; if we’re a student, we… stew? So sickness today impacts our sense of self, if it stops us doing what it is that we do.
In the first century, illness had an even greater impact on your social position: illness meant being ‘unclean’, and therefore exclusion from the community. The greatest impact leprosy had wasn’t the inability to perform your trade, but the verdict ‘unclean’, & thus being shut out from society. This is seen in the leper’s plea, v40: ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Not ‘well’, but ‘clean’. So he could go back to his family and friends.
This is why Jesus sent the leper to the priests to be pronounced clean, in accordance with the procedures in Leviticus 13 (remember earlier this month?) Jesus knew that merely curing him of leprosy wasn’t enough. The man needed to be restored socially, to his community.
Another pointer to this is Jesus’ break with social conventions. In fact, when he healed Simon’s mother-in-law, he broke three of them: (1) touching a non-related woman (v31 took her hand); (2) touching someone who was sick, and therefore ritually unclean; (3) healing someone on the Sabbath. (This shows that Jesus had authority over the Sabbath – a topic that comes up in the first story of chapter 2.)
But it’s this touch that is significant here. By touching Simon’s ritually unclean mother-in-law, and especially by touching the leper in v41, J broke with social convention. He crossed purity boundaries. He made a gesture of inclusiveness toward someone who was excluded by society. In touching them, he showed that he had come to deal with not only the physical dimension of sickness, but the social & spiritual.
This is significant for us, as we act in light of Jesus’ authority over sickness. Because, as you may have noticed, people aren’t always physically healed today. We pray for them in the power of Jesus; and sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t.
But regardless of whether physical healing takes place, we can still be a part of bringing social wholeness. We can be the hands of Jesus. We can reach out – as he did – to the person who is a social outcast. We can reach across boundaries caused by sin, caused by disease, and touch others.
Even today, hospital chaplains will tell you that touch is an important part of their ministry. If someone has been in hospital for a long time, they feel alienated from society. Often their visitors are uncomfortable being around sickness. In fact, just about everyone is uncomfortable around terminal illness. But a simple hand on the shoulder shows that even though their body is sick, they are not ‘unclean’ in your eyes.
In some way, we can still exercise Jesus’ authority over the social effects of sickness. And to do so is an act of worship. An act of worship to the one who has authority over sickness, disease – even death itself.
Authority over his own ministry
The next story we look at is an interesting one that winds its way throughout the chapter. You see, even though miracles dominate this passage, they are not the ‘main game’ as far as Jesus was concerned. The ‘main game’ was, as he declared in v14-15, to proclaim the good news of God. Whenever he performed miracles, it was on the run. As he went around preaching. It was in response to a pressing need:
- v23 – the demon-possessed man while he was preaching
- v30 – Simon asking about his mother-in-law
- v33 – the whole town turned up at the door…
- v40-1 – a leper turned up while he was preaching, and Jesus was filled with compassion.
In fact, Jesus had to escape – he had to exercise authority over his time. He had to do this in order not to be distracted from the main game by people’s legitimate needs.Mk 1:35-37 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
You get the impression that if Simon had been Jesus’ agent, he would have had his day pan out in a very different way: OK Jesus, we’ve booked you in for some healings from 6am, the synagogue at 11 for some Old Testament scroll-signings, followed by a short donkey ride so the press can get some promo-engravings, exorcisms during happy hour at six (I said you’d provide the wine), and then off to record a few sound-bytes for tomorrow’s news cycle – perhaps ‘blessed are the poor’ would go down well with the punters?
But note what Jesus says when he hears everyone is looking for him:Mk 1:38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
That is why I have come – his main game was to preach. And throughout his time here on earth, Jesus had to exercise authority over his own ministry, so that people wouldn’t hijack him for their own agenda.
- He told people not to say who had healed him (v45), so he didn’t just end up running a clinic when he should have been proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.
- He refused to pander to any demand for a sign; to be distracted by ‘performing’ for an audience, when he should be preaching repentance.
- He disappeared whenever it looked like people were trying to make him into a political, military king – because he knew that his was servant-kingship, a suffering Messiah.
In short, Jesus exercised authority over his own ministry. He didn’t let other people or things distract him from the main game.
To think about
In responding to Jesus’ authority in our lives, we mustn’t allow ourselves to be distracted from things that – although worthwhile in themselves – are not the ‘main game’.
What things could be a source of such distraction in your calling?
I mentioned a sixth story, at the start of the next chapter – it’s the one where Jesus’ shows that he has authority over the Sabbath, and to forgive sins. We looked at that same story in Matthew’s Gospel last year, and if you missed it you can read it here.