Today’s reading is Mark 1:29-34:
And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed 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. (ESV)
Today’s reading is the first scene after Jesus becomes a pop sensation. His teaching and healing in the synagogue (Mark 1:21-28) thrust him into the 1st century Galilean spotlight. In these six verses, Mark introduces us to what Jesus does with his popularity, but before getting to that, we should notice three things about the progress of the book of Mark.
First, Mark claims the miraculous, incredible, and supernatural are true. Don’t let your eyes be dull: today’s passage claims that Jesus was able to perform acts that science, medicine, and all human knowledge deem impossible. It is the first of many passages in Mark that suggest Jesus could heal physical sickness without mention of medicine. It is the second of many passages in Mark that suggest both that demons are real enough to control people and that Jesus has power over demons. These are outlandish, unscientific claims. Even so, Mark asserts their truth.
Second, the source of Jesus’ power to heal has not been explicitly stated. At this point in Mark, the source of Jesus’ power seems to be related to being the “Son of God” (Mark 1:1, 1:11) or being “the Holy One of God” (1:24). We will get more clarity on these titles in Chapter 2, and later in the book. As for now, Mark indicates Jesus’ healings demonstrated to his audience that he had “authority” to teach about God (1:27). What this authority entails, however, is not yet clear.
Third, Mark describes nearly everything in the first chapter as happening immediately. In the ESV, today’s passage already includes the 7th and 8th instances of Mark using this word. It occurs about 35 times in the book. Additionally, if you haven’t noticed already, Mark is rather terse – he does not waste words. As we dig into the rest of the book, let’s examine Mark’s verbal quirks and find those of significance. “Immediately” and the terseness seem to focus on captivating the reader, rather than describing anything in particular, but that is not the case with all of Mark’s patterns.
Now onto the text itself. After he miraculously healed a demon-possessed man, a buzz surrounds Jesus, and his fame begins to spread. Instead of basking in his newfound fame, however, Jesus leaves the synagogue and goes over to his friend Simon’s house, where he learns of and heals the sickness of Simon’s mother-in-law. That evening, Jesus heals many sick and demon-possessed people who come to him from all around the city.
Today’s passage is very much a continuation of the preceding passage that first demonstrated Jesus’ healing power over demons. In this passage, it is still the case that Jesus has the power and authority to heal and cast out demons. What is different with today’s passage, though, gives us insight into Jesus’ character.
I identify two differences between today’s passage and the preceding passage. First, Jesus doesn’t teach, and second, he is already (at least a little) famous.
First, Jesus doesn’t teach in this passage. He’s no longer in the synagogue, but at his friend’s house with a crowd outside. Mark does not indicate that Jesus addressed the crowd at all. Jesus simply heals. And he heals many. I almost see this passage as Jesus off-mission — that this scene is his day off. A few verses later, Jesus describes his purpose as intimately related with preaching (Mark 1:38). But on this night he doesn’t teach. Tonight, he just heals.
This passage is an early glimpse into the character and the heart of Jesus. From this passage and many to come, I find it quite clear that Jesus really, truly cares for the sick and for the oppressed. He isn’t just doing miracles and wonders to attract his audience, but instead seems to be doing it simply for the benefit of those being healed. As Nathan Otey said two days ago, Jesus is a good King.
Second, Jesus is beginning to become popular. He is a superstar of sorts. I find it telling that after Mark first mentions Jesus’ growing fame, Jesus retreats. He leaves those whom he amazed and goes to be with his friend, Simon Peter. Jesus shuns, or at the very least does not seek, his popularity.
Now, one might rightly say that healing people in a crowd, even if he doesn’t teach, is still a way of Jesus building up his personal fame. True. But Jesus seems to do his best to mitigate that fame by commanding silence. In this passage, as in the preceding one, he commands demons to be silent and not share what they know about him. A passage or two later, Jesus actually commands a person he healed not to tell his story. As we read through Mark, let’s look for how Jesus interacts with crowds. Does Mark present him as seeking his own fame and glory, or is he seeking something else? What is his purpose?
There is so much more in this passage that I do not have time or space to share. There is even more in this passage that I do not know or understand. One thing I do know, though, is that it is good to think about, reflect on, and apply God’s word. Let’s dig in.
Aaron Gyde ’14 is in the mobile tech industry in Boston. He is an editor-emeritus of the Ichthus.