Old Testament: 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.
The Response: 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
The Epistle: 1 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 Gospel: 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
The older I get and the more I learn about the human race throughout the ages, the more I become aware of how much we all have in common from one generation to another – both for good and for ill. On the positive side, for example, we humans appear to be the only animals who are willing to risk their lives and sometimes even give their lives for the sake of complete strangers; think, for example, of the heroic work of some of our first-responders. On the negative side, during the less extreme circumstances of life, we humans seem to carry with us prejudices against certain groups of people who appear to be somehow different from us.
The target of those prejudices changes from one generation to another and from one group of people to another; but each age and each generation seems to have its own blind spots, its own narrowness of mind and heart. It is incumbent on each era and each generation, and on each individual, to recognize and try to overcome their particular biases.
But that effort is sometimes complicated by a different narrowness of perspective. Some people who advocate on behalf of one particular group or another become so focused on identifying and opposing one specific form of prejudice that they tend to see it everywhere, whether it is present or not. And that, in turn, can narrow their vision and prevent them from taking a more comprehensive view of a particular situation or narrative.
One example of that narrow mindset is some people’s reaction to the story told in the first part of today’s gospel reading. In that narrative, Jesus and his first four disciples enter the house of Simon and Andrew in Capernaum. Simon’s mother-in-law is ill, and Jesus cures her. And immediately, Mark tells us, she got up and began to serve them.
Well! I have both read and heard directly from people who have reacted to that brief scene with great indignation. The first response of a woman who has been cured is, of all things, to get up and serve a group of men! Some who strongly object to this image have even suggested that churches not read that part of the story in church at all.
In this time of #MeToo, such a strong reaction is, to some extent, understandable. All too often, men have abused and denigrated women and continue to do so. But those who want to censor this particular gospel narrative are making two basic errors, and are themselves exhibiting a narrowness of vision.
First of all, they are trying to impose our 21st-century American values on a 1st-century Palestinian Jewish audience. They model what G. K. Chesterton referred to as “the narrow oligarchy of those who just happen to be walking around” on the earth at our particular time.
But even more basic to the gospel’s context, this unnamed woman is actually giving a positive example. She is serving the others; and that is exactly what she should have been doing – not because she was a woman, but because she was a disciple. For, in the gospels, there is one other character who is portrayed as the consummate servant of everybody else: and that person, of course, is Jesus. By acting as the servant of the others who were present in the house that day, this woman has responded to Jesus’ message and to his example by showing that she gets it, while his first four disciples do not. In fact, throughout Mark’s version of the Good News, his disciples repeatedly fail to understand and accept his teaching and to follow his example. This woman is one of the few who do.
St. Paul, in today’s second reading, presents us with an example of what following Jesus’ example might imply for one of his followers. He writes to the believers in Corinth about the way that he has become, as he puts it, “the slave of all.” He explains the way that, while remaining faithful to his basic message, he willingly adapts his own behavior to whatever best serves the needs of others.
We probably praise in theory Jesus’ servant leadership and that of Paul as well. But when it comes to “real life,” aren’t we often looking for other people to serve us and to take care of us much more than we are looking for ways that we can serve them? Aren’t we often concerned more about what others can do for us than we are on what we can do for them?
I wonder if we even think about the way we relate to those who serve us. What about those who wait on us in stores, those who bag our groceries, those who deliver our mail, those who collect our trash and recyclables, those who serve us in fast-food places and sit-down restaurants, and all those other people who serve us day after day? Do we make an effort to make eye-contact with them, to smile, to greet them, to thank them; or are we too busy yattering on our phones or focusing on what we are going to do next that we treat them as though they really don’t deserve our attention?
And what about ourselves as servants? Do we consciously try to be aware of the needs and concerns of others, looking for ways that we can be of service to them even if it is in very small things? Do we try to be attentive to whatever they are going through in their lives, being willing to listen and show concern for them, instead of focusing so much on ourselves? In our communities and in our schools and in our churches, do we keep looking for what activities or services somebody else can provide for us, or on what sort of things we might be able to help provide to serve the needs of others?
Simon Peter’s mother-in-law could have focused on and talked on and on about her recent illness, the one from which Jesus had healed her. But instead, she focused on the other people who were in the house and on ways she could serve them and make them feel welcome. In doing so, she put into practice what she seems to have learned from the one who, later in Mark’s gospel (10:45), explains: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” This apparently ordinary woman “got it.” The first disciples did not. So, what about us?