Keeping The Faith On Ordinary Days
Mark 1: 29-39
This scripture passage—at least certainly the beginning of it—could be "Any Sunday," West Virginia: people going to worship then gathering at someone's house afterwards for Sunday dinner. Someone in the group is sick—the cook of all people!—with a fever we are told (probably nothing life-threatening, although an adult with a fever often feels like they're at death's doorstep!). Anyway, Jesus heals Simon's mother-in-law and dinner is on the table in no time. A Sunday afternoon begins (sabbath in this case), a continuation of the fellowship stirred into action by the Holy Spirit in morning worship. It is an ordinary day.
What Ifind most amazing about this passage is that it is even included in the scripture at all. Imagine if you can the gospel writer's dilemma: you lived with and followed the Son of God for three years and are now asked to write an account of his life. Where do you begin?! Which of the healings do you include of the many he did, which are far too numerous to count? What about the run-ins with the Jewish religious authorities? And the death to life experiences? How about those last days with Jesus? Then the Resurrection and Jesus' appearances afterwards? So much to tell, where would you even begin?! With all this pressing on him, here in the beginning of Mark's gospel (the shortest of the four gospels), we read about Jesus worshipping at the synagogue on a sabbath then going to a friend's house for a meal afterwards: how ordinary. Someone has a fever: how common. And then the crowds came. Why would Mark think this was something important to include in his account?
I don't know Mark's reasons, but for one thing, this passage gives us some perspective on Jesus' ministry; it was NOT one BIG thing after another, day after day. There were ordinary days for him, and here we see one of them. Much like our lives, there were many demands placed upon him. Whether you are a health professional or a repairman or a teacher or parent or grandparent…it seems like there is always some request being made of you, some demand on your time. Sundown comes (that's significant because it signals the end of the sabbath) and the whole city was gathered around the door…and he cured many who were sick…and he cast out many demons. "All," "many," "the whole city." As true then as it is now, there is little rest for those who care about other people; there are so many needs and so many hurting people...and so little time. This is what filled many of Jesus' days: healing, teaching, listening, caring, touching; day in, day out. Ordinary days on which he used the gifts he was given to fulfill his call.
Sometimes I get the impression that we think we are the first and only busy people who ever lived on the face of the earth. From the sound of it, Jesus could not have been much busier had he had a pager or cell phone; yet in spite of his busyness and the nonstop demands on his time, what do we see him doing and what do we see that he knows? From this passage and others, we learn that the Son of God worshipped regularly with his community of faith. Second, we see that he breaks away from the crowd for prayer. In the morning while it was still very dark he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. He did not wait for a quiet space to open up in his day ("Maybe later it'll slow down then I'll have some time alone"); he knew it would not. He set aside time to spend with His Father, God, very intentionally: In the morning while it was still very dark. This sounds like something I've often heard parents of small children say, the only quiet time they have is after the children go to bed at night or early in the morning before they awaken. They must carefully plan their time. There are others who find this quiet time in their cars—away from telephones (at least it used to be that way!) and interruptions. Others find it in the garden; still others in the kitchen.
Why is this time apart so important? Look what happens here. Just as we are likely to get interrupted by a child running into the room or the clock striking or the telephone ringing, Jesus' followers who were hunting for him, we are told, find him and say, Everyone is searching for you. "Everyone is looking for you!" Wow, doesn't that feel good! A swell of pride rises up almost before you know it: "Look at me! I'm important! I'm needed! They love me." But what is Jesus' response to his popularity, in the face of all "the good" he could have done here in Capernaum among people so receptive to his healing and teaching? He says, Let us go to the neighboring towns so that I may proclaim the message there also for that is what I came out to do. Is that clear thinking or what? He was not about to be distracted from what he knew was his call. Would it have been bad or evil for him to stay in Capernaum? Of course not, but in spite of the attractive opportunity to stay where he is known and appreciated, he decides to move on. Jesus knew "the good" he could do in this place, but also "the better" to which he was called elsewhere. Jesus had to be clear on who he was and what he was about, because there were so many opportunities to do good, pulling at him. I've said before, this is the choice most of us face most of the time: the choice between the good I would do and the better to which I am called. For most of us, that is the choice—not the choice between doing evil and doing good. Another way to say that is to say we are faced with the choice between being a good person and the best one God has created us to be. That's what scripture means when it says: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. This is not talking about being right 100% of the time in everything we do, but being fully and completely whom we are created to be. "Be perfectly you" is who we are urged to be!
I was a nurse for twenty years before studying for the ordained ministry. Nursing is a good, honorable, helping profession. The decision I was faced with about ten years ago was: Shall I study for the ordained ministry? For me it was a decision between continuing in a good, valuable ministry of healing or moving on to something that would be better for me…better because that's what I sensed God was calling me to. These are often difficult choices to make in our lives because we tell ourselves, "There's nothing wrong with what I am doing now" (in my case, being a nurse)…but the question is: What is God asking of me at this particular time in my life, perhaps even with the future unclear?
I wonder what the disciples' response was to Jesus' statement that "we need to move on?" It is not recorded. Surely at least one of them must have thought, "Why move on? Look how much good we are doing here! Who knows what lies down the road? There's plenty to do right here, plus a place to stay and good meals!" I remember well the question everyone seemed to ask me when I told them I was planning to go to seminary: "What are you going to do when you finish?" I had no idea, except I was sure I would not be a pastor of a church…maybe a hospital chaplain—something that would "logically" follow twenty years of nursing. But I kept moving ahead, one step at a time. You and I must be clear on who we are because there are many demands on us for our time and talents, our financial and material treasures: good jobs, valid cries for help, noble causes…but what is the best that God has in mind for you, and not just the good you might settle for?
How do we recognize the difference between the good and the best? How do we develop a discerning spirit? Look at the three marks of an ordinary day for Jesus: worship, prayer, and acting obediently on what he knew God was asking him to do at that moment. These marks punctuated his ordinary days giving direction and meaning to his life. The details of the in between times will be different for each of us—perhaps not healing and casting out demons (probably not!), but teaching, corralling children, gardening, studying….Yet, the threads which hold our days and weeks together and bind us to God will be the same: worship and nurture within a community of faith; prayer time: our individual conversation time with God (how else will we get acquainted and learn to recognize God's voice?); and faithful action: acting on what we already know God is calling us to do. Then as we step out in faith, just like walking in the dark with a flashlight, the way becomes clearer one step at a time.
Keeping the faith on ordinary days. This is where most of us live our days: in the "ordinary zone." And this is where God meets us. This is where God met Jesus—not just at his birth, or on days when there were miracles or at his Resurrection—but EVERYDAY, day in…day out, in the quiet, in the busy, in worship, in the Monday rush, alone, in the crowds. God comes to meet us enabling us to keep the faith on ordinary days also, but God can only do that when we let God be a part of our ordinary days. Have you not known? Have you not heard? Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles. Teach us, Lord, teach us, Lord, to wait.
Barbara Ann Hedin