Revised Common Lectionary Page for 5 February 2012 (Fifth Sunday of Epiphany, Year B)

Isaiah 40:21-31  • Psalm 147:1-11, 20c  • 1 Corinthians 9:16-23  • Mark 1:29-39

This week’s gospel reading is one that rewards attention to the story’s details.  (It’s from Mark, a book that rewards attention to detail.)  Mark shows Jesus going from public space (the Synagogue) into family space (Peter and Andrew’s house) and encountering a fever, the fire-within that threatens human well-being just as much as the unclean spirits do.  And when the setting changes, so does the reaction of the people: in the absence of Synagogue authorities to heed, the people do not make comments in their wonder; they flock to the house.

And then another literary detail becomes important: they flock at sundown.  The gospel of Mark does not often set the scene with such specific time markers, so this one is worth noting.  The picture that the text paints for the reader (or the hearer) is unmistakable: as the world grows dark, the people gather around Jesus.  This is where the famous Messianic Secret comes in: although Jesus expels the unclean spirits from those who come, Jesus does not allow those spirits to name him, because the privilege of calling him Son of God will only be granted once he has shown the world what it means to be Son of God, to be nailed to the cross.  Although the people await the new Son of God (a title that had mainly royal, not biological, connotations in the Second-Temple era), Jesus makes every attempt to keep Israel from saying with certainty that the King has arrived.

Thus Simon’s statement, “Everyone is looking for you,” rings doubly ironic this side of the Resurrection: no doubt word had spread in that particular moment that a healer was in Capernaum, and no doubt people from the surrounding area were seeking him for the particular and crushing sicknesses and possessions that troubled their families; but beyond that, as Mark tells us in the opening verse of the gospel, the Son of God, the one that everyone is indeed looking for, is among them, incognito, as the moment of his glorification (I borrow that word from John, not Mark, of course) approaches.

In the meantime, Jesus is clear on what he must do: after withdrawing to pray, he sets out for the next town, then the next, playing the itinerant prophet and announcing the Reign of God to all who would hear.  Only when he comes to the city that kills prophets will he allow the voice of an occupying pagan officer to announce him as Son of God without objecting.  But for now, the signs that point to the Reign of God will continue, whether by exorcism or by healing, whether in synagogue or home, and the office of proclamation will not fall to the one who in God’s name reigns but the ones who in the King’s name proclaim His gospel.

May the God who sends the Son and gives the gift of the Spirit enliven us, that we might also be signs that point to the Reign of God.


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