31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
February 4, 2018
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Between last week’s scripture passage and this week’s, we hear an entire day in Jesus’ life.
It begins with him going to the synagogue to teach and cleansing a man of an unclean spirit. And then “as soon as [Jesus and his disciples] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew” (Mark 1:29) and found Simon’s mother-in-law very ill with a fever. So Jesus heals her, too.
Jesus isn’t done yet though. By sunset, word of his powers and abilities has gotten around, and “they brought to him all who were sick or [evil-afflicted]. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And [Jesus] cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” (Mark 1:32-34)
Now, that’s a pretty good day’s work by the stretch of anyone’s imagination. A morning of teaching, two healings before dinner, and an evening spent curing the whole city. There could not possibly be a single person in the world who would not agree that Jesus deserved a good night’s rest, that Jesus deserved some alone time, that Jesus deserved whatever he needed or wanted to recharge his batteries and renew his spirit.
And yet, when Jesus slips away for some time for prayer, here come Simon and the other disciples hunting for him. We lose something in translation because they don’t come hunting for Jesus. They hunt him down. (Charles, 337, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 1).
In his commentary on this passage, Gary W. Charles writes, “Simon and his friends find Jesus as if he is lost and has forgotten his task”. They know “what Jesus should be doing, and it is not sitting in solitude and prayer. [Especially when] Anxious crowds await his ‘immediate’ attention.” (Charles, 337, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 1)
What a day Jesus has just had. Teaching in the morning and then healing people and casting out demons until well after the sun set. And the crowds, the disciples, are not satisfied. Help me. Heal him. Do this. Do that. Come here. We need you.
When the disciples, when the crowds press in upon him, though, Jesus does not get frustrated or even upset. He doesn’t yell or have a break down from exhaustion. He doesn’t even stay and keep healing. All very human reactions.
Instead, Jesus goes away from it all. While it is still very dark, he goes to a deserted place. Other translations call it a solitary place or a lonely place. There is no desert around Capernaum, and still deserted is exactly the right word because it reminds us of Jesus’ time in the desert, Jesus’ temptation in the desert.
There is great need in Capernaum. The people keep coming and coming, and being human, I imagine Jesus feels the pressure to set up shop at Simon and Andrew’s home and keep healing and casting out demons.
There are people in need, and Jesus can fill their need. It is tempting to stay. So when Jesus feels that temptation, he goes out to a deserted place to pray, to connect with God, to struggle with what he is supposed to, to get clear about his calling – to get clear again about his calling. To discern if he is supposed to stay or to move on.
It is in this quiet, deserted place of struggle, this place of discernment with God, that Jesus regains his focus. So when Simon and the disciples hunt him down to remind him what they think his job is, what they think his responsibilities are, Jesus can turn to them and quite clearly and quite calmly say, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came… to do.” (Mark 1:38)
Because of his time alone with God, Jesus is clear about his calling. Jesus is clear about his ministry; Jesus is focused.
We don’t hear the disciples’ reaction; we don’t hear the crowd’s reaction; however we can imagine their disappointment, maybe even their anger. How dare you, Jesus, not do for me like you did for all of these other people? No, Jesus, you are wrong. It is not your calling to move on and to proclaim the kingdom of God. You are supposed to stay right here. You have responsibilities. We have needs.
Throughout his ministry, there were lots of people who wanted to define who Jesus was, define what his ministry was about, decide what he was and was not called to do.
And so time and time again, Jesus went away, to a deserted place, to pray, to wrestle, to discern, to engage God, and to get clear again and again about his calling, about what he came to do. It was this time away, this time with God, that gave Jesus the focus, gave Jesus the strength to stay true to his calling, even when that calling upset or disappointed people.
It’s a focus we also need if we are going to faithfully follow our callings in ministry. We need to be clear, sometimes get clear again, about who God has called us individually and communally to be, what God has called us individually and communally to do.
Like Jesus, we need to carve out spaces to pray, to discern, to be with God, to listen and to wrestle:
to wrestle with the temptation to be all things to all people;
to wrestle with the temptation to do what others say is our responsibility instead of being true to what we know we are called to do;
to wrestle with our temptation to keep the peace and please others, instead of boldly declaring what God has called us to come and do.
The needs of the world are many. We will always be surrounded by the persistent, needy, anxious crowds clamoring for us to do this, to do that. Like Jesus, we need to make time, to create space, to be with God and ask, “What are You, God, calling me to do?” “What ministry have You, God, created me to do?” It is only in that space that we can gain the focus we need to keep faithfully walking our own paths in ministry.
And then, we need to go do it.
You have a ministry that transforms the world with Christ’s love. There is one ministry God has called you to. One perfect ministry that uses all of the gifts and talents and resources God has blessed you with. One way that you have been called by God to transform the world with Christ’s love.
So make some time with God, go to that deserted place and wrestle, discern, get clear about your call, get clear again about your calling and then go live that ministry with single-minded focus. It’s okay if you disappoint people. Expect that you will disappoint people. You can’t do everything. Even if it was possible, you shouldn’t do everything.
Go and transform the world in the way God has called you to – and if you begin to feel pushed off track by the persistent, needy, anxious crowds, when you begin to feel tempted by a perfectly nice and good ministry that is not your own, go to a deserted place with God and get clear, get focused. And then go serve the world again!