A Reading from the Book of Isaiah (40:21-31)
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Psalm (147:1-12, 20c)
How good it is to sing praises to our God! *
how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!
2 The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem; *
he gathers the exiles of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted *
and binds up their wounds.
4 He counts the number of the stars *
and calls them all by their names.
5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power; *
there is no limit to his wisdom.
6 The Lord lifts up the lowly, *
but casts the wicked to the ground.
7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; *
make music to our God upon the harp.
8 He covers the heavens with clouds *
and prepares rain for the earth;
9 He makes grass to grow upon the mountains *
and green plants to serve mankind.
10 He provides food for flocks and herds *
and for the young ravens when they cry.
11 He is not impressed by the might of a horse; *
he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;
12 But the Lord has pleasure in those who fear him, *
in those who await his gracious favor. Hallelujah!
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (9:16-23)
If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel. For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (1:29-39)
Jesus left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured 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. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
In sermons and even in our Adult Forum sessions, in which we take a deeper look into the day’s scripture readings, I usually avoid using very technical terms. They might be accurate and precise, but they don’t do any good if nobody else understands what they mean.
But today I want to introduce you to two rather technical words that describe opposite ways of trying to deal with the word of God. I want to do that not to expand anybody’s vocabulary, but to invite you to reflect on two very different ways of approaching the scriptures. The words are “exegesis” and “eisegesis.”
“Exegesis” refers to the act of interpreting the scripture by examining it and bringing out the meaning, looking at what the original author likely intended to say and what the original audience likely would have heard. Exegesis can enable us not only to understand the original intent but also to apply it to our current situation or concerns more faithfully.
“Eisegesis,” on the other hand, refers to reading something into the scriptures, usually something that was never really there to begin with. It means trying to make the passage mean what we want it to mean. It is an attempt to try to make the word of God say what we want it to say rather than listening and trying to hear what it just might be saying to us.
Back in the 1970s and 80s, for example, as the struggle for women to attain an equal place in the church and in society had come to the forefront of many people’s attention, more than one speaker and writer railed against the image of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law in the first part of today’s gospel reading. (Actually, just this past week, I found another commentary that referred to this same approach, and it was published in 2008.) These critics condemned the portrayal of this woman, newly healed by Jesus, who immediately gets up and waits on a group of men. What a sexist image, in their opinion.
But a couple of times — when I have dared to step in where angels fear to tread — I have suggested that she was doing exactly what she should have been doing: serving the others; but it’s not because she was a woman and they were men. That’s an example of eisegesis: of trying to read our concerns into the scriptures. Instead, if you look at the wider gospel story, Simon’s mother-in-law is not the only one who is pictured as serving everyone else. There’s at least one other character who does the same thing, and his name is Jesus. Jesus’ first four disciples don’t do that. Maybe what’s going on here is that everybody in the house has heard Jesus’ message about being the servant of others; and the mother-in-law gets it, but Simon and Andrew and James and John simply don’t. This unnamed woman serves as a positive example of what Jesus is teaching and of what Jesus is doing.
This story of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law is just one part of a larger narrative. It began with last Sunday’s gospel reading, which took place in the synagogue in Capernaum, in which Jesus healed a man possessed by an unclean spirit. It continues in the next verses of today’s reading, which describe for us Jesus’ work in healing “many who were sick with various diseases.”
The terms “sickness” and “disease” are not necessarily confined to those conditions that are officially defined as physical, mental and emotional afflictions. Those same terms are apt descriptors also by other conditions that bring suffering to people. Among them are the sense of isolation, loneliness, or “being forgotten” that afflict many people who – because of a physical problem or simply because of the strains of old age – can no longer participate in the life of the wider community.
Healing the sick — those who were suffering from a wide variety of afflictions – was an integral part of Jesus’ public ministry. That, in itself, should be enough to tell us that the work of healing needs to be an integral part of our life as well, we who are called to follow his example. I think that is a good use of exegesis: of bringing out of the text what it is saying in its historical context and of asking what it might mean within our context today.
Yet we, not only as a church but as an entire society, tend to neglect or maybe even avoid that important work. As people make their way through old age, one of the things that they fear is being cut-off from those people or places or activities that have been a part of their lives. Those things include their life as a member of a church. And at least some people reach a stage in life where they can no longer attend church. They have no choice, but we do. We have the ability to decide whether they are going to be essentially cut off from their church community, or whether we are going to help to heal that separation by reaching out to them and helping to keep them connected. One of our shut-ins put this way when I visited him recently: “I can’t come to church anymore, but you bring the church to me.”
Visiting our shut-ins on a regular basis has always been a part of my ministry. It is something in which I was trained four decades ago by a wonderful pastor who served as my supervisor when I was a transitional deacon. I know that having the parish priest visit shut-ins regularly is important to them. But, by itself, it is not enough. Like many other ministries of the church, taking the church to those who can no longer come to church is the responsibility, not only of a member of the clergy. It is the responsibility of all of us who have been baptized. It is part of our life of following the example that Jesus has set for us.
I know that my visits to our shut-ins – usually every other week — are important to them. But I also know how important it is to them to have other members of the church stay in contact as well. When I make my visits, they are quick to mention who from the parish called them, who sent them a card, or who actually went to see them and spent some time with them. These are all ways of letting them know that they have not been forgotten, that they are still loved and cared for, and that they are still important members of the church community.
But our care for those who can no longer participate in many of the activities that we take for granted doesn’t and shouldn’t stop with other members of our church. We, as a society, and especially we, as followers of Jesus, need to reach out to them on a regular and ongoing basis. As an old saying aptly puts it: “You are the only gospel that many people will ever hear, and you are the only Jesus that many people will ever see.” Fulfilling that important role is a task for all God’s people.