This weekend’s Gospel reading (Mark1.29-39) features two different scenes. In the first, Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever. She responds by immediately getting up and serving Jesus and the Disciples. The news of yet another healing spreads quickly and by sundown a whole city of people are gathered at her door asking Jesus to heal them.
In the second scene, Jesus gets up before dawn and leaves for some quiet time in prayer. The Disciples and everyone else proceed to go looking for him. When the Disciples find Jesus, he then invites them to follow him to neighboring towns so he can preach; to “do what he came to do.”
As I read this weekend’s Gospel, I found myself responding to each scene a little differently. In the first scene, my 21st Century brain was a little irritated by the message that Simon’s mother-in-law responds to her healing by immediately getting up and waiting on the men. I had to remind myself that I live in a different time and culture and put myself in the mother-in-law’s “skin.” In Jesus’ time, providing hospitality to guests was the role of women. Her getting up and serving Jesus and the Disciples would have been a sign that she was healed enough to resume her regular routine. Even in our culture, being healed enough to return to our normal routines would be reason enough to praise God by turning right around and serving others.
Secondly, according to scripture scholars, the verb used to describe her service was “diakoneo” which would have been the same verb Jesus used to describe his own ministry; to serve others in need, rather than being served. This would have been the same kind of service Jesus called us to in the washing of the Disciples’ feet; serving with humility and love.
In the second scene, Jesus is pretty clear that his primary ministry is preaching and that the healing of those who are sick or possessed is simply his way of “practicing what he preaches.” Curing the sick and possessed would have exemplified the unconditional love of God or the “Good News” Jesus regularly shared.
This passage begs the question: Are we “practicing what we preach” today?
Earlier this week I was struck by the comments made by Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, who indicated that conservative Evangelical leaders had given Donald Trump a “mulligan” on his personal behavior for an alleged affair before the election (as well as other indiscretions). If there is any truth to what Mr. Perkin’s said, then some of us Christian leaders are a very long way from “practicing what we preach.” It is certainly true that forgiveness is at the forefront of the Christian message and to forgive someone for a past offense is fundamental to our Christian faith. However, forgiveness is vastly different than blatantly ignoring actions that demean or dehumanize others – especially when ignoring them is for our own personal or political gain. Complacency in the face of dehumanizing words or actions is definitely not reflective of any Christian message I’ve ever read, and it certainly doesn’t do much for building bridges, either. May all of us Christian leaders get better at practicing what we preach; at advocating for love of God AND love of neighbor.
The “Building Bridges, Building Hope” blog is written by Susie Tierney, Executive Director, of the Center for Social Ministry. Susie hopes the blog will encourage others to be “bridge-builders” in this politically divisive time, and will promote dialogue and common ground-thinking. To sign up to receive our “Building Bridges, Building Hope” blog click here.