Text: Mark 1:29-39 W 5th Sunday after Epiphany
“Everyone Is Looking for You”
In the name of him who came to proclaim the good news of life and salvation through trust in him, dear friends in Christ: you may remember a few weeks back near the very beginning of the Epiphany season, we spent some time considering the story of how when Jesus was twelve years old his parents lost him briefly. Unbeknown to them, he had stayed behind in Jerusalem when the rest of their group of Passover pilgrims began their journey home. Mary and Joseph spent three long days looking high and low for Jesus in all the places they guessed a precocious twelve year old might be. They found him at length in what was probably the last place they would have thought to look: in the temple discussing the Scriptures with the religious scholars. If you recall the story, you know that Jesus didn’t respond very sympathetically to his parents when they told him how frantically they’d searched all over the place for him. He said to them, “How is it that you didn’t know where to find me? I had to be in here these things of my Father.” He was telling them that they wasted their time looking for him in all the wrong places. There was only one place he could be and they should have known that. And that was the message for us as well. We should expect to find Jesus where he must be; namely, the things his Father has given us by which we receive him: his Word and Sacraments. And we’re wasting our time if we attempt to find him in any other place.
Very well, in today’s Gospel lesson, the search for Jesus has expanded. Now there’re a whole lot of people looking for him. It’s as Peter exclaims when he finds him at last: “Jesus, everyone is looking for you.” And to be fair, they’re looking for him precisely where they had last seen him the day before, at the home of Peter and Andrew; so it seems the logical place to look. But it turns out that Jesus isn’t there. He slipped out and practically sneaked away during the early morning hours while it was still dark. And even knowing there’s a crowd gathered back there around the house waiting for him to appear, he has no intention of returning to them right away – which might strike us as rather odd. I mean, you’d think Jesus would want to make himself available precisely to people who want very much to see him. Now it seems he means to avoid them. What gives? Well, let me suggest it’s this: whereas Mary and Joseph made the mistake of looking for Jesus in the all the wrong places; these folks are looking for Jesus for all the wrong reasons. But perhaps some explanation is in order.
This morning’s Gospel reading picks up right where last week’s left off, so to understand what’s going on it would help us to do a little review. We’re in the city of Capernaum, which is on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. It’s the place Jesus launched his ministry and where he will spend the majority of his first year of preaching and teaching. You might think of it as his Galilean base of operations. It’s also the home town of at least four of his disciples. Anyway, as we heard last week, Jesus began his ministry by teaching in the local synagogue at their regular Sabbath services. It was his custom, week after week, to read from the Scriptures and then preach a sermon based on what he read – exactly like I’m doing now (except I’m sure that he did it a lot better). And as we heard, the folks there were amazed at his teaching, not so much because of what he said; but because of the way he said it. Unlike their usual teachers who kind of waffled and produced a lot of flimflam and fluff without really saying anything of substance, Jesus taught with authority. When he expounded upon the Scriptures, you knew exactly what it meant and how it applied to you personally. In this way Jesus proved himself to be a real physician for the souls of his hearers, using God’s mighty Word to probe, so to speak, the very spots where were the deepest pains of every sinner’s heart, mind, and spirit. Only by discovering – and more importantly helping his hearers to know and feel – where the wounds really were could he show them the cure: their need for God’s forgiveness and spiritual restoration through the coming Savior sent into the world to redeem the lost.
What’s interesting though is that Jesus did not go on to say, “Oh, and that Savior, the long promised Messiah of Israel that everyone is waiting for, well, it just happens to be me” – at least there’s no indication that he did so this early in his ministry. And as we heard last week, it turns out that he didn’t have to make that announcement himself. It happened on this last Sabbath that Jesus preached in the Capernaum synagogue that there was a man present in the congregation who had an unclean spirit that had taken residence within him. This demonic spirit, under assault by the power of Jesus’ preaching, could finally take no more. It came out of its formerly comfortable hiding place and cried out in fear, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.” Jesus ordered the unclean spirit to be silent, and with a word drove it out of the man. And the people watching were all very impressed and amazed. They said to each other, “Boy, that Jesus sure can preach. What authority he’s got. Even demons obey him.”
But what’s really ironic though is that they fail to make the connection. Look: at this point in Jewish history everyone is looking for the Messiah to be revealed. It’s long been the most heartfelt desire of every person in the nation, that the Lord would finally get around to fulfilling the ancient promises he made to the Patriarchs and others about sending a Savior. And John the Baptist, whose ministry recently came to an abrupt end when he was arrested, had got everyone all stirred up. John told them, “He’s here among you right now. Keep your eyes and ears open because he’s about to be revealed.” So expectations couldn’t be any higher. But now here’s Jesus effortlessly driving out a demon from some guy’s poor, tortured soul – while the demon’s screaming to the whole world that Jesus is the Holy One of God – and they don’t get it. Everyone in Israel is looking for the Messiah; but when he appears and is announced and proves himself right before their very eyes, they’re clueless. All they can say is, “That Jesus is one heck of a preacher.” They simply can’t make the mental leap to see that the Messiah is primarily a healer of souls. Jesus, as good as he is, is just a preacher. He can’t possibly be the Savior.
This is where this morning’s reading picks up. After the service everybody goes home for their Sabbath Day dinners with their families. No doubt there’s some lively conversation around those tables about what happened. And I expect too that word spreads to a lot of those who weren’t at the synagogue service that morning. It’s likely that then, as today, there were plenty of folks whose attendance record was less than stellar. But understand that what’s being said at this point it’s just excited talk. They’re saying things like, “That was really something, wasn’t it?” and “You should have been there to see it.” But that’s about it.
Okay, while this is happening, Jesus and the first few of his disciples have gone over to Peter and Andrew’s home for their midday repast. There Peter discovers that his mother-in-law is lying in bed sick with a fever. No doubt everyone is quite worried – especially Peter’s wife. In those days, not having the modern medicines we take for granted, a fever could be easily fatal. But it’s no problem for Jesus. He simply takes her hand and lifts her up out of the bed and she’s healed. No fever, no residual weakness; she’s one hundred percent well. So well, in fact, that she immediately starts setting the table for dinner. And if she’s like a lot of women I know, she’s probably grumbling about the way everyone was making such a fuss over her. You can picture the scene: her daughter and others are saying, “Mom, you were pretty sick. You should sit down and take it easy. We’ll take care of this.” And the older woman is shooing everyone out of the kitchen insisting that she’s just fine and that she’s got work to do.
And this too is interesting. This is the first healing miracle that St. Mark records in his Gospel. And it’s pretty much glossed over. You might have expected some kind of build up or great fanfare afterward; but there’s nothing like that. It’s just she was sick, Jesus healed her, and she got back to work. Done. It’s almost like it’s not that important. Certainly the divinely inspired author intends to play it down.
Ah, but word of this miraculous healing spreads through the streets of Capernaum like wildfire. It’s the Jewish Sabbath, though, so people aren’t supposed to be doing a lot of moving about; but as soon as the day ends at sunset and that restriction is lifted, the whole town turns out and surrounds the house where Jesus is staying. Everybody wants to see Jesus – but it’s important to note that they’re really not looking for Jesus the preacher and teacher, nor are they looking for Jesus the Messiah. All they want is Jesus the doctor.
And for the present, anyway, Jesus indulges them. Long into the night he cures their illnesses and heals their various ailments. In the process he also runs out a few more unclean spirits; but these he prevents from speaking. They know who he is; but the sad truth is that they’re also the only ones who really seem to care – and that not in a positive sense. The fact that he’s the promised Savior is bad news for them.
Well, finally after many hours of work the crowd begins to thin and disperse. Jesus has dealt with all their biggest problems. Makes you wonder if the disciples weren’t helping to organize the crowd too, kind of like the staff of an emergency room doing triage, prioritizing cases and deciding whom Jesus should see next. You know they had to be basking in some of his reflected popularity. All this healing Jesus was doing was making them look like pretty important people. Which is why too they probably panicked the next morning when there’s another crowd gathered outside and Jesus is nowhere to be found. “Don’t worry folks. Relax. We’ll start attending you just as soon as … uh … Jesus is ready.”
But Jesus saw the problem right away. Preach a thousand soul healing truths, and no one seems to care. Cure one illness, and people will come out in droves. And where would that end, do you suppose? I mean, after he’d healed all their major complaints, what would be next? Toothaches? Hang nails? Wart removal? What about cosmetic improvements? “Jesus, I’ve always thought my nose was too big. Do you suppose you could trim it down a bit?” Next thing you know there would be a Jesus Hair Club for men.
Okay, maybe that’s a little absurd (or maybe not); but people often ask, “Why don’t we see that kind of healing going on in the Church today?” Or more to the point, “If Jesus healed all those people, why won’t he heal me?” It’s vital that we see this: healing our physical bodies was never the main focus of Jesus’ ministry. Quite the opposite, the commotion caused by the healing miracles often interfered with his ability to do the job he considered to be far more important. And that’s why he tells Peter, “Let’s leave here and go to the next towns that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”
It’s through his proclaimed Word that Jesus healed souls by bringing sinners to repentance and to trust in him. That’s how people came to salvation and to eternal life. And the same is true today. And yes, it lacks the flash and pizzazz that people so crave and want to experience. Still today people flock to churches and TV ministries that claim to do healings and put on big shows. But what you’ll notice in these churches is a decided de-emphasis of the main issues, namely the problem of our sin and God’s cure in sending his Son as our Savior to redeem us by his sacrificial death on the cross, and almost a complete focus on doubtful testimonials by people who say that they were cured of something, or that Jesus saved their marriage, or fixed whatever other temporal problem they had. I think it’s safe to say that in such places Jesus has done exactly what he did in Capernaum. He’s gone to do his real work some place else.
Which is why we want to make sure that we keep our focus on the main thing too: Jesus Christ our Savior from sin. We want to make sure that we are looking for him primarily for the right reasons and always in the right places: where his Word is proclaimed and his Sacraments are administered according to his Word, because those are the means by which he delivers to us the assurance of God’s forgiveness through his saving work on the cross.
Now please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t also go to him with our requests for bodily healing either for ourselves or for others. What I’m saying is that that can never be the top priority. God’s infinite love and concern are shown to you in Jesus dying on the cross. That’s unquestionable. It’s absolute. And by it you are assured of an eternity of joy with him. What you don’t want to do is hang your faith on how the Lord deals with you in temporal matters. You don’t know if he wants to heal you of some sickness. It may be he has good reasons for afflicting you in one way or another. If he heals you, great. Praise his name. If not, as hard as it is to say, that’s great too because you know he must have a higher purpose for it, that he will bring you through it one way or another, and that he will ultimately crown you with life. And being confident of that provides ultimate security and the peace that passes all understanding.
Which leads to my last thought, because that’s what all people are really after. In this world so full of suffering, fear, and doubt, where there is so much sorrow and guilt and uncertainty, they are looking for a firm place to stand. They’re looking for truth. They’re looking for someone or something they can rely on to set their minds at ease and assure them that in the end, everything is going to be all right. Listen: only Jesus fits that description. Only he can provide what they’re looking for. And so whether they know it or not, the truth is that everyone really is looking for Jesus. Unfortunately most of them don’t know it. May it be that we who do know him and who know where to find him, help them find who it is they’re looking for. In Jesus name. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!