In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Today is our last Sunday in the mini green season before we head up a mountain. This church year began way back in Advent, as we built towards the coming of Christ in the flesh of the babe in a manger. And soon we, with Ash Wednesday and Lent on the horizon, we will be building again towards the coming of Christ, this time Christ coming to a cross on Friday and out of the grave on Sunday.
But for now we have been lingering with the revealing of Jesus. Revealing of his mission and ministry, revealing his identity in the waters of baptism, his call to the disciples in various ways, his message for God’s people bringing the Kingdom near.
Last week Jesus cast out an unclean spirit in the Capernaum synagogue, a spirit that revealed our own fears and anxieties of change, of the unknown, of the future.
And all these weeks between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent, are supposed to moment to steel ourselves for the slog of Lent. Yet, this has been hard work, being forced to face reality and deal honestly with our situation.
In this final week of lingering, there are more miracles. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law and then the whole town comes with their problems. They want to be healed too.
It is no wonder that Jesus is tired by the end of the night. It is no wonder that he wants to get away and be by himself. And it is no wonder that even the disciples want more out of him.
The miracles, the people clamouring for Jesus. This is the story of today. But as Mark tells us these stories of healing, we are begged to ask a deeper question, one that is percolating under the surface.
Mark shows us that there are many, many people searching for healing, searching for miracles. And Jesus doesn’t accommodate them all. In fact it almost seems random and doesn’t make sense. Why heal anyone if you don’t heal everyone?
And if you have the the time to stay and heal some people, would one more day, to finish the job, be so bad? Jesus decides to pick up and move on, and for us it doesn’t really jive.
This Gospel lesson brings another story to mind, one that may open wide the question that is floating beneath the surface, the one that we might be afraid to ask.
In the face of suffering, in the face of pain and grief. In the face of death, we bring our greatest questions to God. And we ask why some and not others? Why heal some people and why let others suffer? Why is there no obvious reason for it all?
This moment in time has certainly opened the flood gates of questions about suffering, with a sometimes near harmless, sometimes deadly virus seemingly arbitrarily choosing who gets really sick and who doesn’t, who ends up in the hospital and who just gets the sniffles. Not to mention all the other things we have going on that are out of control from job loss to climate change, from racial justice to extreme political division based conspiracy theories.
We know both the exhaustion that Jesus seems to have with it all (and it is only still the first chapter of Mark) and the clamouring for healing and miracles of the crowds who are coming to him.
There is a temptation when preaching about this story tell you that we are being selfish when we ask why God isn’t solving our problems. There is the temptation to say that we only want a magic Genie God who comes at our beck and call to make our lives easier. There is the temptation to say that all human life ends in death, so a little healing here and there doesn’t really make a difference.
But that is not fair to the reality of suffering. That does not acknowledge how much suffering and our need to be healed can come to define our very existence. And nor does it explain why sometimes it doesn’t make sense why some people are healed and some are not.
When Simon comes and tells Jesus that people are looking for him Jesus says, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
For that is what I came out to do.
We know the message. We know what Jesus has done for us.
But at this point in the story, Jesus hasn’t done it yet. The message that Jesus is preaching is that the Kingdom of God has come near. Those are the very first words that he says in the Gospel of Mark.
The Kingdom has come near because the King has come near. God is near because Jesus is near. And Jesus is not only on his way to proclaim the message, Jesus is the message. The message is what we proclaim as a community of faith:
Christ has died
Christ has risen
Christ will come again.
But the message is not just knowing the story, but discovering how exactly the story has changed our lives.
Jesus has not come to take away our suffering. In fact, even the people who Jesus healed, they still suffered afterwards. And even still, Jesus himself suffered.
Suffering as terrible as we know it, is normal. That doesn’t make it easy, that doesn’t make it suffering good.
But especially these days, as our suffering and discomfort, our crisis and struggle is so acute, there is a strange comfort in know that it is not outside the normal. It isn’t *our* normal, but pandemics and economic struggles and existential threats are not unusual for creation, not new in history, and not outside of God’s purview. There is nothing that we are experiencing now that is too big for God to contend with.
God’s mission in Christ, God’s purpose in the incarnation, God’s activity in the world has not changed. God stills comes to be reconciled with God’s people. God still brings mercy and forgiveness and grace into a world that needs it. God in Christ has come near to us to do something about ultimate and permanent defeat — death.
While life and freedom will always mean that suffering and discomfort are a part of our existence, God’s mission to creation is to redefine our existence. Not take away our pain, our suffering, our grief. Not remove death from our existence. But rather to transform it.
On the cross, Christ takes all of our death.
Christ does not take it away, rather Christ changes it, all of it.
Into something new.
On the cross and then in the empty tomb, Jesus takes death and makes it something completely different. It is no longer the end of our lives. Death is now our entrance into the Kingdom of God. Suffering, pain, grief and death are near. But so is the Kingdom of God. This is the message that Jesus has come to proclaim. This why Jesus only stays for so long and why some are healed and others not. Because this healing is only temporary. But death having been transformed into resurrection. That is permanent.
Yes, we know that suffering and death can be terrible and it can in fact come to define our very lives… but God has refined suffering, God has redefined death and God has redefined life. Yes, we come clamouring to Jesus to take away our aches and pains, to take away our grief and sorrow. But Jesus does something completely different, something that isn’t for just a few or some of us. Rather, Jesus has come into our world, joined God to all creation in order to bring us, all of us, all of creation, to New Life.