Last week, we heard about Jesus ordering an unclean spirit out of a man at the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath day. The Gospel reading for this Sunday takes place right after Jesus leaves the synagogue on the same day.
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
Let's pay attention to what Jesus does. First, he enters Simon and Andrew's house. He goes into the place where they live, where they make their home. We can consider the kind of people we invite into our homes. This is a very intimate action; that means it is something close and personal.
Jesus comes to Simon's mother-in-law, takes her by the hand. In Jesus' time, a fever was considered almost an evil. Even today, especially during this pandemic, we are very wary of fevers. We are told not to get close. But Jesus does not back away. He does not keep a safe distance. He comes close and takes her hand. We can think of the people whose hands we hold. For most of us, there are not that many. Our parents, our grandparents. Someday, we will hold the hand of the person we hope to marry. This is another very intimate action. Close and personal.
Then, Jesus lifts her up. The Greek word St. Mark uses here--egeiró--means to waken from sleep or to raise up. It is the same word used when Jesus raises someone from the dead. Jesus lifts her up and she no longer has the fatigue of fever. Jesus lifts her up and she is no longer ill. Jesus lifts her up, giving her health, giving her life.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
This scene is very vivid. We can picture Jesus in the doorway of Simon and Andrew's home as the sun goes down on the Sabbath, watching all these people approach with their loved ones who are ill in body or in spirit. How his heart must go out to them. We can picture him moving about the crowd, entering into the situation they are living, coming close and touching them, lifting them up. He does not want them to be ill. He wants them to have life.
It is a vivid scene, but the more we consider it, the more it might make our hearts ache. Here we are in the midst of a pandemic, and so many people are ill. Here we are in the middle of a long lockdown, and so many children are sick in spirit. We need healing now. Spirits are low. What can we do?
Can we lift them up?
We cannot enter other people's homes, but like Jesus, we can enter into lives intimately. We can pray. We can lift people up in prayer. Praying is one of the most intimate actions--close and personal. But what does prayer do?
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.
Jesus prays. That is a fact we can hold onto. It must be important. When the disciples hunt him down, suggesting that they want him to come back into town to the people who need him, Jesus does not go. Instead, he leads them onwards. Does his heart no longer go out to the people of Capernaum? What has changed?
Jesus has prayed. In praying, he has aligned his will with God's. This means that his own will has become focused, tuned into what God wants. There are many good things to choose from, and praying has shown him in which direction he needs to go.
When we pray for someone, when we enter into their situation in prayer, when we lift them up to God, we are also fine-tuning our will. Like an antenna, our will finds God. We become more focused. We might find that our prayer changes over time. We might even find that we change over time. We enter more deeply into a personal, close connection with both God and the person we pray for. And the more we do this, the more people who pray, the more God's will is done.
And what does God will? More and more life. Up close and deeply personal. Intimate.