Healing many: context

Jesus_healing_Peter_inlaw29 On leaving the synagogue he entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. 31 He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them. 32 When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. 33 The whole town was gathered at the door. 34 He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him. 35 Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and those who were with him pursued him 37 and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” 39 So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

The narrative move quite quickly in the Gospel according to Mark. The narrative’s pace and immediacy is one of the most notable attributes of the writing. Lest one think that Mark is simply concatenating stories without a larger vision in mind, it is always good to “step back” and see the larger framework in which the Gospel account exists.

During the beginning of “Ordinary Time” in the lectionary cycle, we quickly move through the first major section of Mark’s Gospel that extends from 1:14 to 3:6 describing the initial phase of the Galilean ministry. Within this section the evangelist records the calling of the first disciples (1:16–20; 2:14), Jesus’ ministry in and around Capernaum (1:21–34), and a series of controversies (2:1–3:6) which are climaxed by the decision to seek Jesus’ death (3:6). A new section begins with 3:7 and extends to 6:13. One descriptive outline of this first major section is:

Jesus’ Authority and the Pharisees’ Blindness (1:14-3:6)

  1. Jesus Proclaims the Kingdom of God and entrance to Galilee(1:14-15)
    2. The Call of the First Disciples (1:16-20)
    3. Jesus’ Authority Over Demons and Illness (1:21-45)
  2. a) The Beginnings in Capernaum – a new teaching authority (1:21-28)
    b) Healing Peter’s Mother-in-law (1:29-31) |
    c) The Sick Healed at Evening (1:32-34)    | our text in 5th Week of Year B
    d) Departure from Capernaum (1:35-39)     |
    e) Cleansing a Leper (1:40-45)
  3. Jesus’ Authority Over Sin and the Law – the Growing Conflict (2:1-3:6)
  4. a) Healing the Paralytic – the authority to forgive sin (2:1-12)
    b) The Call of Levi (2:13-14)
    c) The Messiah Eats with Sinners (2:15-17)
    d) Jesus and Fasting (2:18-22)
    e) Sabbath: Violations and Lord of the Sabbath (2:23-28)
    f) Healing the Withered Hand – Jesus must be destroyed (3:1-6)

In last Sunday’s Gospel, Mark witnesses to the authority with which Jesus teaches – an authority put on display as the unclean spirit is overwhelmed. The people are “astonished” and “amazed.” Jesus not only speaks with authority — he also acts with power! The “amazed” bystanders acknowledge the teacher’s authority, yet they still have to ask: “What is this?” (v. 27).

A note in transition last week’s scene of casting out a demon with a new power/authority to this week’s less dramatic healing – the two accounts are connected. I would suggest that Mark intends the two stories to be read together – but the editors of the lectionary saw fit to be read on two different weeks. The first clue about their connectedness is that v. 29 begins “and immediately” (kai euthus – for some reason the translators of the NAB reduces the whole phrase to “On” losing the Greek intensity of the phrase). Let me just offer the following about the important contrasts between the first healing (1:21-28; casting out demons) and the second (1:29-31; cure of Peter’s mother-in-law):

  • man – woman
  • synagogue (holy place) – house (common place)
  • supernatural (unclean spirit) – natural (fever)

There is no limit to Jesus’ power and authority. It is for all people, in all places, and in all circumstances.

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