Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ten days from now, on February 17th, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Next Sunday will be Transfiguration Sunday.
Today, however remains the Fifth Sunday of Epiphany in our liturgical calendar. The average Christian might ask what’s so special about the Fifth Sunday in Epiphany. I would have to answer, “Not so much.” All the hype surrounding the Super Bowl has passed. A blanket of snow covered the Iowa winter landscape. Many of our members and friends have packed luggage in their cars and headed south for warmer climates. About all that’s left to endure this weather are the frozen chosen.
Interestingly, the time after Epiphany and Pentecost has traditionally been known as ordinary time. Ordinary means to us the familiar, the customary, regular, or common. There is nothing wrong with this time. It’s just not distinguished by anything extraordinary.
Even the gospel for this Sunday appears perfectly suited for ordinary time. We learn Jesus and the disciples left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon and Andrew. As chance would have it, Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever. Maybe it was influenza A. But she wasn’t feeling so well. Jesus goes to her room, takes her by the hand and lifts her up. The fever leaves her. She feels so well she begins to serve them. Nothing extraordinary here we might think. After all people get sick all the time, take to bed and then recover.
Good news spreads quickly in the town. That evening at sundown all sorts of people were brought to him who were sick mor possessed with demons. In fact, it seemed like the whole city had gathered outside their door. And Jesus did not disappoint them. Scripture tells us, “he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” It was a good day, but an ordinary day.
The next day before dawn. Jesus arose and went out to pray. His companions came searching for him. Jesus tells them. “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I have come out to do.” There was work to be done and they needed to get on with it.
We are, as I have mentioned, in the midst of the Epiphany season. Epiphany means manifestation of the divine. It means God makes his presence felt in the here and now. The season began in an extraordinary way with the coming of the wisemen from the East to worship Jesus. The following Sunday we read about the baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit descending upon him as he came out of the river Jordan.
These Epiphany events root themselves in the Gospel of John which proclaims: “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” Let us think of the story of Jesus healing in the town of Capernaum, as a vivid example of the “The word becoming flesh, dwelling among us, full of grace and truth.” That is, something extraordinary happening in ordinary time. Here are three truths we learn from the story
First, Jesus meets us in the ordinariness of life. We learn from the Gospel that the disciple, Simon, was married. He had a mother-in-law and also owned a house. So, in a sense, the disciples left everything to follow Jesus, but that doesn’t mean they ran away from their domestic responsibilities. They had family and property. It was right for them to still behave with responsibility towards their family.
Jesus comes into Simon’s house: he enters the domestic world of his followers. And so it is with us. God enters our world, he enters the domesticity and ordinariness of our lives. Being a follower of Jesus isn’t some mystical, transcendental experience that takes us out of the responsibilities of this world. As a follower of Jesus, God comes into our lives and he ministers to us in the ordinary and the everyday.
That’s what the line from the Gospel of John teaches “The word became flesh and dwelt among us”. We do not despise the ordinariness of our lives. We do not to regret our domesticity or see it as a barrier to our relationship with God. If we want to meet with God, he comes to us in the everyday. He finds us where we are, meeting us in the ordinariness of life.
Secondly, Jesus considers our needs. Here is Jesus. He just taught at the synagogue. He exorcized an evil spirit. He left a huge crowd of people in amazement at his authority. He confounded teachers of the law. His fame spread throughout the region as each minute passed. And then he gets to Simon’s house and he’s told: “My mother-in-law has a fever”.
He ascends the stairs and heals the woman with a fever. He wasn’t motivated from his own perspective but always the perspective of the person in need. It is easy for us to discount the suffering of others. Their pain may seem small in comparison to our own pain or in comparison to the pain of the people of Egypt or Afghanistan or wherever we may choose to focus. But pain is pain. If we want to be Christlike, we address pain and suffering wherever we find it. We do not judge or compare it to the suffering of someone else, discounting it as “a job too small”. Jesus meets us in the ordinariness of our life. And considers our needs without judgement.
Finally, Jesus shows compassion towards us. It has been interesting during Epiphany preparing sermons for worship services. I am finding the lessons emphasize the importance of physical touch. Touch is such an important healing gift. We see it again in our Gospel. Over and over again in Jesus’ ministry, his compassion is conveyed through the power of touch; taking hands, touching shoulders, helping up, touching blind eyes, holding people. Touch is a pastoral gift that conveys the compassion of Christ.
This is a very simple story in Mark’s gospel. But we learn three deeply profound truths about Jesus. He enters the ordinariness of our lives. He is considerate to our needs. He shows compassion, particularly through his physical presence. We proclaim Christ to our friends and families, let us enter the ordinariness of other peoples’ lives. And when we enter their lives may we be a healing presence, as Christ was in Capernaum. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.