Outward and Inward

Message for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B (2/4/2024)

Mark 1:29-39


“As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house….”

By the end of today’s Gospel from Mark, it’s clear that Jesus’ ministry can’t be contained to a single community, let alone a single home: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns,” he says, “so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Ultimately, the gracious reign of God must move ever outward, toward the horizon and eventually to the ends of the Earth. But, Mark makes a point to set this little episode in the home of Simon and Andrew and Simon’s mother-in-law, that is, in the inner sanctum of their lives.

Why? What does that context have to say about Jesus and his work to remake the world?

As soon as [Jesus and the disciples] 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 [Jesus] 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.That evening, at sunset, they brought to [Jesus] 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….

At first, we may bristle at the role Simon’s mother-in-law plays in the story. Jesus heals her, why, just so she can go back to cooking for the men? Table service, however, does not refer simply to servitude, but more generally to hospitality. And, the significance of hospitality can’t be overstated. The Greek word here is diakonia, which functions as a metaphor for any act motivated by faith in Jesus and love for the neighbor. As Jesus himself insists, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,” or diakonos. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”[1]

What’s more, some versions of the Bible prefer to translate diakonia in broader terms here, as in “the fever left her, and she ministered unto them,”[2] or “the fever left her, and she began to take care of them.”[3] That is to say, this is a portrait not of subservience, but discipleship. “Simon’s mother-in-law interprets the gift that she has received,” to quote one interpreter, and her natural response to the love of God is not submission, but “true messianic ministry.”[4]

And, it all happens at home. Jesus cares for Simon’s mother-in-law inside her four walls, and in turn she cares for her guests. Even the crowds get the healing they need at the entryway to the house. Even as the love of Jesus is public, in other words, it’s also private; even as the reign of God moves outward, it also moves inward, to the places of intimacy in our lives.

Early last month, we had to put down our beloved cat, Phoebe. Anyone who has known and loved a furry family member knows how hard it is to make that decision. But, Phoebe sent us a clear signal that it was time, which was a sort of parting gift to us after nearly sixteen years. We adopted her the week that we returned from our honeymoon, so she had been with us throughout our married life, through all the ups and downs. Whenever we came home, there she was.

And for that reason, it seemed only appropriate that she should get to die at home, too. She never liked the veterinarian’s office, and we didn’t want to subject her to unnecessary stress. But, we also wanted to say goodbye where we had always said hello. So, on Phoebe’s last day we invited a vet to administer the euthanasia medication right where Phoebe had spent all her other days.

It’s apparent to me that the doctor bore the love of God to us when she walked through the door that day. There would be no physical healing for our cat, but there would be compassion and attentiveness and expert care. It was a vulnerable experience, to be sure, and it was holy. Our home became a sanctuary.

There is a beautiful liturgy in our worship resource called “Blessing for a Home” that I’ve had the privilege of using with some of you. The authors explain the significance of the ritual this way:

Blessing for a Home is a celebration of vocation in the deepest and broadest sense. We thank God for the gift of a home while honoring the ways people practice their faith in their life at home: chores and hobbies, cooking and eating, ways of relaxing, relationships within the household and beyond it, caring for our bodies, connecting with the creation.[5]


The liturgy begins with a reading from Proverbs: “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.”[6]

Then there is a blessing at the entryway: “O God, watch over [those who live here] in all their going out and their coming in; keep all evil away from their door; and let them share the hospitality of this home with all who visit, that those who enter here may know your love and peace.”[7]

Friends, since God knows “the human need for nearness,”[8] in the incarnation God comes in to meet us where we are, takes us by the hand, and lifts us up. God-with-us can’t be domesticated, of course; we can’t keep God at home. Nonetheless, God moves in and through our daily lives, opening the door to faith, hope, and love for the sake of those with whom we live, and for the sake of neighbors we know and those we have yet to meet. Thanks be to God!

[1] Mark 10:43, 45.

[2] American Standard Version.

[3] Tree of Life Version.

[4] Ofelia Ortega, in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 1, 334.

[5] Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Pastoral Care, 337.

[6] 24:3-4.

[7] Pastoral Care, 339.

[8] P.C. Enniss, in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 1, 336.

Liturgy © 2024 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.

Liturgy © True Vine Music (TrueVinemusic.com). All rights reserved. Used by permission under CCLI license #11177466.

“Cast Out, O Christ”; Text © 2006 GIA Publications, Inc., giamusic.com. All rights reserved. Arr. © 1969 Concordia Publishing House, cph.org. All rights reserved.

“Now the Feast and Celebration”; text and music: Marty Haugen, b. 1950; © 1990 GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.

“Precious Lord, Take My Hand”; text: Thomas A. Dorsey, 1899-1993; music: George N. Allen, 1812-1877, adapt. Thomas A. Dorsey; text and music © 1938, 1966 Unichappell Music Inc., admin. Hal Leonard Corp. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.

“Bread of Life from Heaven”; text: Susan Briehl, b. 1952; music: Argentine traditional, refrain: Marty Haugen, b. 1950, stanzas; text and music © 2001 GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.

“I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me”; Arr. © 1995 Augsburg Fortress
O Worship the King with Come, Now Is the Time to Worship/arr. by Carol Tornquist/copyright 2002 Word Music, Inc./CCLI