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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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St Paul's, Efford
Tony's Reflection 31
(click to read the passage)
The week before last, I introduced you to Mr Martin, my ferocious first-year form teacher at secondary school.
Not all my teachers were like that. Mr Jenkins, for example, the music teacher, couldn’t have been more different. He was full of life and mischief, with a perpetual sparkle in his eye. He called us by our Christian names, not our surnames. He got us playing and performing pop songs, instead of obscure classical pieces. With him, music lessons, choir practice and orchestra practice were all great fun.
We loved Mr Jenkins. When he said “Jump”, we all asked, “How high, sir?”
No one messed with Mr Jenkins, though. You see, he was a teacher with authority, just like Mr Martin. An authority born of the warmth and affection with which he was held. Very different from the authority Mr Martin held over us, based on fear and raw power.
In this little episode from Mark’s biography, we see Jesus exercising authority. Sometimes that authority is like that of Mr Jenkins. On other occasions, it is like that of Mr Martin. Let’s take a closer look…
Jesus has just left the synagogue, fresh from the confrontation with the demonised man. With his four new followers and friends, Peter, Andrew, James and John, he’s off to Peter and Andrew’s house.
We can only begin to imagine what the conversation was like, as Jesus’ four friends tried to process what they had just seen.
When they arrive at the family home, there is a warm welcome from the extended family, although one person is missing. Peter’s mother-in-law is in bed, ill. She is not just feeling a little peaky, she has a fever. The illness is unpleasant, to put it mildly and could even be dangerous. As Jesus is introduced to Peter’s family, they give their apologies that he isn’t going to be able to meet the mother-in-law right now.
Jesus would, of course, do the polite thing. He would understand why she couldn’t come and welcome him. He would say how much he was looking forward to meeting her. He would hope she was better the next time he came.
Not a bit of it …
Jesus goes to her bed, takes her by the hand and helps her up. The fever totally disappears. It is as if he is helping someone up, who is simply feeling a bit stiff, first thing in the morning.
Jesus is so tender and down-to-earth. There is no elaborate “healing ceremony”. Just a simple and plain act of gentleness – and the fever is completely gone.
Jesus has absolute authority over sickness and disease. It disappears at just a touch from him. What’s more his authority comes with such gentleness and tenderness, wrapped with warmth and affection.
Each little story in an ancient biography was carefully chosen to show us the most it possibly could about the central character.
This little story gives us a beautiful picture not just of the complete authority Jesus had over the works of darkness, but the sensitivity and compassion with which he exercised that authority.
For Mark’s original readers, though, this story showed even more about Jesus. Back in his day, a religious leader shouldn’t even touch a woman, let alone one who is sick in bed with a contagious illness. What’s more, for the strict Jews of Jesus’ day, the sabbath was a day of rest. You had to think twice before you even tied your shoelaces on the sabbath, let alone doing an act of healing.
When Jesus comes to Peter’s mother-in-law, he doesn’t see all of these taboos. He sees a sick woman, who needs a loving touch, as well as healing – and he brings both, with no hesitation or quibble.
You see, Jesus is the ultimate people person. Religious taboos don’t hold him back, when he sees someone in need.
Word soon gets out about what Jesus has done. The story about the demoniac and Peter’s mother-in-law spread like wildfire. Before the day is done, Peter’s house is under siege from a crowd. Not a crowd who are merely curious, but a crowd of the sick, the lame, the blind, the demonised, all after a healing touch from Jesus.
The sick are healed. The demons are cast out.
Look at the authority that Jesus has over the demons. His authority over disease was more Mr Jenkins than Mr Martin. It was wrapped in warmth and affection. The authority over demons is more Mr Martin. It comes with sheer raw, overwhelming power. Jesus won’t even let the demons speak. They have to come out in total silence.
Why is that? Because they know who Jesus really is. He doesn’t want the demons shouting about who he is. Jesus wants to show who he is in his own tender way.
Mark showed us right at the start of the biography who Jesus is. The demons know full well who he is. The disciples don’t, at least not yet. But the light is dawning.
Do you know who he is, yet? Someone with remarkable authority over disease and demons. Someone with unbelievable tenderness towards those who are suffering. But he is so much more, as Mark will show us…