Commentary: Mark 1:29-39 Part 2
Mark has summarized Jesus' message: "the kingdom of God has come near" (1:15). We have witnessed the dawning of the kingdom in the call of four disciples, the beginning of a new community following Jesus (1:16-20). We have seen the release of the kingdom as Jesus banishes the demonic (1:23-29). All four of this month's gospel texts present further evidence of the kingdom at work in Jesus.
Just as the previous scene began by Jesus going into the synagogue "immediately" (v. 21, "immediately" omitted by NRSV), our text begins with Jesus "immediately" going out of the synagogue and into the home of two disciples. The kingdom's reach extends as Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law. The good news cannot be contained; it spreads from this one household to the entire city (vv. 32-34), so that Jesus must retreat to the wilderness where this story began (v. 35; cf. v. 12). Yet this retreat is not an escape; the good news of the kingdom cannot be limited to one household or even one city, but must be shared with all (vv. 38-39).
Three short scenes form this text. In vv. 29-31 we find a brief healing story, which follows the typical form: setting (v. 29), problem (v. 30), healing act (v. 31a), and evidence of healing (v. 31b). The second scene (vv. 32-34) is an extended summary, indicating that the exorcism and healing narrated by Mark were not unique, but were characteristic of Jesus' ministry in Capernaum. In the final scene (vv. 35-39) Jesus seeks solitude outside the city. This scene reaches its dramatic climax with the words of v. 38, which are programmatic for Jesus' ministry. Verse 39 brings this cycle of scenes to an end by echoing the opening of the Capernaum stories: Jesus' ministry is one of preaching in the synagogues (cf. vv. 21-22) and of exorcism (cf. vv. 25-26) in all of Galilee (cf. v. 28).
V. 30 The disciples tell Jesus about Peter's mother-in-law because they have already seen Jesus' power. Just as the people of Capernaum will bring their sick for healing (vv. 32-33), so too the disciples mention this illness in the hope that Jesus can help. Mark will make painfully clear that the disciples cannot understand Jesus on this side of Easter, but they are not completely clueless. They have recognized the power of the kingdom at work through Jesus. Their partial understanding becomes a vehicle for healing—surely a hopeful word for us all.
v. 31 Frequently in Mark's gospel, Jesus' healing is accompanied with touch (cf. 1:41, 5:41, 6:5, 7:33-34, 8:23-25, 9:27). Jesus refuses to leave people isolated in their need. Following Jesus means coming into actual contact with lives and places that are sick. The woman's service is more than the expected "proof" that the healing was accomplished. She becomes a picture of discipleship: one who has been touched by Jesus and who responds with service, just as Jesus himself came to serve (10:45).
v. 32 The crowd gathers at the door while the sun is setting. The Sabbath is over, and the work of healing is now allowed. Jesus has not waited; he has already cast out a demon and healed a fever on this Sabbath. Such works of the kingdom will soon become the occasion for scandal and hostility (3:1-6).
v. 34 We might expect that Jesus silences the demons because they curse, or lie, or just because they are loud and annoying. Instead, Jesus silences them because they know the truth. It is not yet time to declare this truth. That time will come, but not apart from the cross and resurrection.
v. 36 Peter and his companions "hunted for" Jesus (NRSV); they "chased him down." Elsewhere, this word has hostile, even violent connotations. This is what Pharaoh did to the Israelites as they were leaving Egypt (Ex 14:4). Peter has no hostile intentions here, but Peter's response to Jesus lacks the simple faithfulness shown by his mother-in-law. Peter chases Jesus down and tells Jesus everyone is searching for him, assuming that Jesus must want the attention of the crowds. In Mark's gospel "searching" is usually negative: Jesus' biological family searches for him (3:32); others search for signs from Jesus to test him (8:11-12); the leaders search for a way to kill him (11:18; 12:12; 14:1, 11, 55); even on Easter morning, those who search for Jesus are mistaken (16:6). This seeking crowd will not convince Jesus to stay. Ministry lies elsewhere.
v. 38 Jesus will not forget those who are off the beaten path and outside the power structures. He leaves the acclamations of Capernaum to go to the neighboring vil lages. Jesus' purpose is not to gain fame, but to deliver the oppressed; his message cannot be restricted to a few. Jesus says that he "came out" to preach. The expression is ambiguous: "came out" from where? From Capernaum (v. 35)? We were told that Jesus had left town to pray. From Nazareth (v. 9) or from the wilderness after his testing (v. 14)? At the deepest level, this verse claims that Jesus' mission is rooted in the saving will of God. Jesus has come from God to call sinners (2:17); he has come to serve, and to give his life as a ransom (10:45).
We have not yet heard anything specific about Jesus' proclamation beyond the summary of 1:15. Mark has told us about Jesus' astonishing power over sickness and the forces of evil. If the repentance for which Jesus calls (1:15) is going to be possible, if people are going to turn in joy toward the kingdom, then Jesus must release them from those forces that hold them in bondage. Jesus did not come to be an astounding miracle worker; he came to announce the kingdom in deed and in word. Such gospel proclamation cannot be contained; the message must be declared—by Jesus, by Paul (1 Cor 9:16), and by us.
Brian K. Peterson
Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary