8 February 2009/Epiphany 5B * Luke 1: 29-39
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
A Day In Capernaum
It is really a Day and a Night in Capernaum. And it is the Sabbath at that! When one walks in the gate to Capernaum today there is a sign that proclaims: Capernaum-The City of Jesus. It strikes one as a bit much, but after several hours walking around the ancient ruins of Capernaum, one gets the feeling Jesus was really there. It would be here that he first announces, “God is here for the taking!”
There are the ruins of at least two synagogues, neither one very large. The only one old enough, however, is right next door to Peter’s mother-in-law’s house. But we need to remember, before heading into her house, Jesus spent time in the synagogue. Ordinarily this was where people read and disputed scripture. Those who were sick or possessed by demons were simply given explanations as to why they might be the way they were.
So earlier on this Sabbath day, Jesus casts aside any use for the disputation over scripture and casts out demons, plural, from a man who no doubt had sat through years of Scribal teaching and had been unmoved and unchanged. In the process they cry out, “Have you come to destroy us?” Jesus’ actions proclaim, “Yes, indeed!” For all kinds of reasons this would have stirred things up in Capernaum and the surrounding area!
On the way out the demons give a loud cry, a sign of defeat, but even more so to protest that the demonic reign in this world evidently was coming to an end. The next time in Mark’s gospel that we hear a “loud cry” will be another sign of the demonic attempting a last-gasp grip on this world, when Jesus hangs on the cross.
Then it is next door to Peter’s mother-in-law’s house. She is sick. Jesus raises her up and not only restores her, but makes her a co-worker in his Father’s kingdom! She becomes a paradigm of disciples “raised up” for the work and life of the kingdom. In just a few short verses of Mark, and in the course of the day, Jesus manages to cross religious (don’t work on the Sabbath), social (don’t touch the sick), and sexual (don’t touch a woman) boundaries. Not to mention raising the status of women as co-equal workers and disciples in his Father’s kingdom. No one can ever accuse Jesus of not moving quickly in the name of Change!
Oh, and by the way, this appears to be the beginning of what can be called the domestic or house church. That is, the center of God’s work and worship has moved from the Temple and synagogue into the home. Gatherings in simple homes will be a place where the Risen Lord will be “at home” in all his power to heal both the spiritual and physical disruptions of life.
Meanwhile the rest of the town mobilizes after sunset. That is, they honor the Sabbath and then coming knocking on the door. The whole town, we are led to believe, is standing at the door with all manner of sick and possessed people. Jesus obliges.
Note two things here. They are standing at the door. That is, they have not yet crossed the threshold of faith. They come not for who Jesus is, but rather what he can do for them. They have only begun to get a glimpse of who he is and what is to come. So they are healed not because they believe. Their healing will lead to belief.
By now we are wondering, “Just how does this Jesus do all this? Where does he get this new power that transcends anything that we have seen before now?”
The text is unhesitating in answering this question: he sneaks off to be alone with God in Prayer. We are told he leaves well before dawn, under the cover of darkness, without telling anyone where he is going.
Jesus’ reliance on private prayer with God tells us several things about the life of Faith. Jesus relies on God. Although he engages in corporate prayer in the Synagogue, at least three pivotal moments drive him to private contemplative prayer alone with God: here at the outset of his ministry, after the feeding of the 5,000, and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is directed, sustained and inspired by God in moments of solitude and prayer.
Second, Jesus is not a magician – he relies on the power of God to help others. He does as God wills him to do. He seeks God’s direction in his battle against the forces of evil.
Finally, Jesus’ times of private prayer speaks to us of the importance of solitude, quiet and contemplative prayer in the life and practice of faith. More than a refuge from life’s pressures and stress points it is an opportunity for time spent in the presence of God. As Jesus receives a larger vision of his work and mission in the world, so do we. When Jesus emerges from this time of private prayer, or more accurately is yanked out of it by the disciples who hunt him down, he does so with renewed energy, new clarity, renewed purpose, and a wider vision of what God has in store for Him and for us.
One might sum it up – there is no time to stay in one place. One cannot remain stuck in one place. One cannot let the demands that seek to constrain us to one way of doing things hold us back from moving on.
Oh, how we hate to hear that. The Church as much as individuals loves to remain stuck in one, same familiar place, even if it is a place running rampant with demons, distractions, and physical problems of all kinds.
Yet, the irony appears to be that to be reenergized, reinvigorated, re-inspired by God’s Spirit Wind, one needs to stop, be still, keep quiet, and reconnect with the God who put us here in the first place.
Be still and know that I am God, says the psalmist. God is at home, it is we who are out for a walk.
In the whirlwind of activity that is the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus takes time to be quiet and alone with God. Jesus needs solitude and contemplative prayer time. He knows he needs to do that. Can we as His disciples possibly survive without doing the same?
The final lesson from A Day in Capernaum seems to be to stop whatever we are doing, be still, spend quiet, private time with God in prayer. We need to. The Church needs us to. The world needs us to.
It is the only way to keep up with Jesus in the work he calls us to do – to go throughout the nearby neighborhoods and towns proclaiming his message for all to hear: God is with us for the taking! Amen.