Service Above Self

hospital bed
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/slightlyeverything/6550567513/">Kate Hiscock</a>

Mark 1:29-39

From church, they went straight home to Simon and Andrew’s house along with James and John. They told him that Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever. But when he came in, he took her by the hand and she got up, the fever gone, and began to serve them.

That evening, as the sun set, people started bringing their sick and deranged to the door – the whole city turned out – and he cured many with various illnesses and cast out many demons, but without allowing them to speak – they knew him.

The next morning at O-dark thirty, Jesus got up and went out to be alone in prayer. But Simon and the others tracked him down and told him, “Everyone’s out looking for you.” He said, “Let’s head out to the next few towns and get the word out there. That’s my mission.” So off they went, all over Galilee, speaking in churches and expelling demons.

[See also previous comments on Mark 1:29-34 (on healing) and Mark 1:35-39 (on not stopping).]

This short trio of events is (sort of) Mark’s equivalent to Luke’s great commission (“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8).

  • Jerusalem – The first scene is of Jesus restorative ministry happening among those who are the closest in, Peter’s family, among those few who are (at this early stage) already following.
  • Judea – The second vignette shows Jesus ministry to people who are not on the inside, but who are still close to home. These are people who are coming toward Jesus. They are those who have heard about the movement, who believe that Jesus might have something to offer them.
  • The ends of the earth – The third part reverses the direction of the second part. Instead of people coming to see Jesus, Jesus goes out to take the message to them.

There is a real sense in which every successful, sustained endeavor to lead a movement and to effect real change needs all three of these elements: those who are already in the movement, those who are curious about the movement as a means of satisfying their own needs, and those who haven’t a clue what the movement is about.

In each of these three areas of concern, Mark is careful to show us that Jesus ministry is one of restoration. Beyond this, however, we might also make a few observations about the particular kind of work needs to happen in each of these areas.

  • Jesus’ restoration of Peter’s mother-in-law.While we might focus on the miraculous dissipation of her fever, the more important thing happening here is the result of her recovery. She began to serve them. Jesus will later say, as the disciples argue among each other about which of them is the greatest, that the greatest is the one who becomes a servant (Mark 10:44). Peter may be the most famous of the disciples, but his mother-in-law, by her service is already the greatest. Taken as a whole, Mark implies that the ministry of restoration among those who are already within the community is to generate a community of service.
  • Jesus’ restoration of the ill and possessed. Among those who are coming to Jesus, Mark is careful to note that Jesus would not allow the demons to speak “because they knew him.” This is the first instance in Mark of what’s commonly called “the messianic secret” – Jesus doesn’t want his identity as the messiah to get out. Among those who have come to him focused on their own needs, the notion of a messiah can only deepen their dependence on some external salvation. It reinforces the notion of “a savior come to serve me.” The whole point of Jesus’ restoration (as we have seen in the first scene) is to strengthen people for service of others.
  • Jesus ministry in Galilee. Finally, Jesus isn’t satisfied with merely doing damage control. (Hugh MacLeod cartooned that, “All control is damage control.” Think about that!) It’s not enough to say who you aren’t. You have to proactively advance the mission and say who you are. Again, what Jesus does, and presumably what he says, is about serving others, ending the imprisonment of those possessed.

What’s your mission? Are you caring for those who are already participating in it? Are you receptive of those who are wondering if you can serve them? Are you reaching out to those who have yet to hear your good news? Most importantly, is your work in each of these cases about your greater service or is it about your greater self?

Be Thankful (Not Apprehensive)

mother and son
Photo credit: Tony Alter

Luke 7:11-17

Later on, Jesus went to Nain with his disciples and a large crowd in tow. As he neared the city gate a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. Another large crowd from the city was with her.

When Jesus saw her, he felt terrible for her, and said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went over and touched the gurney so that the pallbearers stopped. And he said, “Dude, get up.” And the dead man sat up and started talking. So Jesus returned him to his mother.

The crowds were struck with apprehension. They acknowledged God, saying things like: “A great truth-teller has come to us,” and “God has come to our rescue.” And this news about Jesus shot through the whole Judean region.

(Happy Thanksgiving!)

The point of this is not to prove the Jesus can raise the dead. The point is to prove that Jesus can restore a relationship. The key line: “So Jesus returned him to his mother.”

It requires his attention to both sides of the estranged relationship. Her sorrow. His inaction. She’s not as alone in the world as she thinks. He needs to take responsibility for himself.

But what the crowd (which includes most readers) sees, of course, is the raise the dead thing. So instead of being thankful and rejoicing, they are struck with apprehension. Instead of seeing an example to do likewise, they interpret it as a sign that they will be rescued from beyond.

But the life, and the rescue of society is in the relationships. So too, is the hope of renewing life and restoring community in the ability of each of us to do as Jesus did. To have compassion, and then to do something to rebuild broken relationships. Even those that seem hopelessly dead.

[Hint: If you really want to do this, it will take paying attention to both sides.]

[Oh, and did I say, this is tremendously great news. So don’t be so apprehensive about it. Happy Thanksgiving!]