As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And 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.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ 38He 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.’ 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Translation: And immediately, going out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. But Simon's mother-in-law was lying down with a fever, and immediately, they spoke to him about her. Coming near, he raised her up, took her hand, and the fever released her, and she was serving them.
But evening happened when the sun set, they were bringing to him all who were sick and possessed by demons, and the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with many maladies and threw out many demons, and he was not allowing the demons to speak because they knew him.
Early in the morning, before day, he rose up and went out and went into a deserted place, and there he was praying. And Simon and the ones with him pursued him, and they found him and said to him, "All are seeking you." And he said to them, "Let us go elsewhere into the neighboring villages so that there we might proclaim to them for this I came."
And he went, proclaiming into their synagogues, into the whole of Galilee, and throwing out the demons.
Background and situation: Mark is an action-oriented gospel. In the first chapter alone, John the Baptist appears and baptizes Jesus, then Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, then calls the disciples, then enters a synagogue and exorcises a demon-possessed man--all this in 27 verses!
The repeated use of the word "immediately"--I count 28 in 16 chapters--also gives the story a head-long thrust. (These aren't always translated in NRSV. For example, in the reading this week, "immediately" appears twice in the Greek text, but not at all in the NRSV translation.)
Our reading follows upon Jesus' casting out the unclean spirit in the synagogue in Capernaum (1:21-28). First, Jesus has shown exousia--power, authority--in casting out a demon. Now, he will show his exousia in healing.
What the kingdom looks like in Mark: In Jesus' first direct confrontation with religious power, he had been confronted by a demon, threw it out, and then bested the religious authorities by being described as one having authority, unlike them.
The origins of the synagogue system are murky. They appear to have been getting started in the first century (though some trace them back to Babylon). The synagogue portrayed in Mark 1 appears to be one that had a worship and study function. People are gathered there on the sabbath, and teaching itself is not portrayed as remarkable.
Entering a synagogue on the sabbath, teaching with authority (unlike the authorities), and casting out a demon would have been quite a provocative move. It would have generated notice and "buzz" throughout the community, from which, incidentally, news could travel fast. (Capernaum had a good communications network with the region.)
After all this very public activity, Jesus then goes to a private home. Jesus "immediately" left the synagogue in Capernaum and went to the home of Simon and Andrew. After a foray into public controversy, he withdraws from public. (Later on in 6:10, as Ched Myers notes, a "house" is portrayed as a safe place.)
Jesus had just previously cast an unclean spirit out of a man. Now, he heals a woman, the mother-in-law of Simon. Not only are the two episodes gender-balanced, in my view deliberately, but together they show the twin characteristics of the kingdom in Mark's gospel: casting out of unclean spirits, and healings. The kingdom has come near! Jesus cleanses and heals the world!
Jesus "raised" Simon's mother-in-law, took her by the hand, and the fever "released" her. (NRSV has Jesus first taking her hand, then "lifting" her up.) The word is egeiren, which is also the word for resurrection. To me, "raised" would be the preferred reading since, in my view, Mark intends its' implication of resurrection.
Then, Jesus took her hand and the fever "released" her. The word is apheken, a word often used for the forgiveness of sins, and which means "released" or "let go." Demons and disease are countered by resurrection and forgiveness, you might say.
It is still the sabbath incidentally. Jesus had been in the synagogue on the sabbath and had immediately gone to Simon and Andrew's house, which means that Jesus had healed Simon's mother-in-law on the sabbath. Since it happened in private space, Jesus was safe from attack. In 3:1-7, he will heal someone publicly on the sabbath, and the pharisees and Herodians will conspire against him.
Mark then notes that "evening happened when the sun set." Sunset means that the sabbath is now officially over and it is then that the whole city was "gathered together" at their door. The people are portrayed as religiously observant on the sabbath, but also as people who went to Jesus as quickly as they could.
Again, the twin signs of the kingdom are manifest: healing and casting out demons. The word "many" is used three times--"many" sick, "many" maladies, "many" demons. "Many" is an expression that often means "untold number."
He would not allow the demons to speak, however, because "they knew him." Werner Kelber explains:
The reason the identity of the Son of God must not be revealed at this point is that Jesus has not yet lived his destined life to the end. It is only after he has ended on the cross that he will have fulfilled his identity. Then and only then can the Roman centurion make the one and only appropriate confession (15:39). (Mark's Story of Jesus, p. 11)
In other words, we do not yet know the whole story about Jesus and it will not be known until Jesus' death on the cross. The central theme of Mark's gospel is the paradoxical victory of the Crucified, and we are not there yet. Any identification of Jesus prior to his crucifixion is incomplete and to be avoided or contradicted.
The campaign begins: It is "early morning." Jesus "rose up" and went to a deserted place--not just a home this time, but a place completely void of people. Does anyone in the four gospels, except for Jesus, ever go off by themselves to pray? Mark portrays Jesus as a man apart--even a man alone. This adds to his mystique.
The group with him, apparently now led by Simon, "pursued" Jesus. They tell him that "all are seeking you," a statement reflective of Jesus' sudden popularity and one also of timeless existential import. Who isn't seeking freedom from demons and healing from maladies? No one, says Mark. The whole town of Capernaum had gathered at his door, and Simon tells Jesus that "all are seeking you."
Jesus says an interesting thing: "Let us go elsewhere." This is subtle. Jesus wants to go in a different direction than Simon. He wants to go "elsewhere." The disciples and Jesus will be at odds throughout Mark's gospel, and here is an early and nuanced hint of that tension.
Jesus then identifies "elsewhere." He plans to go "into the neighboring villages." The word is komopoleis. This is the only place it is used in the New Testament. The word appears to mean small, clan-based villages, of which there were many in Galilee. (Galilee was relatively heavily populated, but had no large cities.)
"And he went, proclaiming into their synagogues, into the whole of Galilee, and throwing out the demons." We are only at the 38th verse in Mark's gospel, and already Jesus has been identified as both coming from and going to Galilee. Then, after he threw the unclean spirit out of the synagogue in Capernaum, "his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee (1:28)."
Note the political and social strategy of Jesus. First, he goes to the heart of religious power in the region by going to a synagogue on the sabbath and besting the established religious authority. Capernaum was the most well-connected town in the region and news of this encounter would have traveled fast.
While that news is getting around, Jesus decides to go to the hinterlands and "proclaim." The people in these countryside villages would have been among the poorest people in Galilee. Most of the people would have been subsistence farmers. What's more, a significant percentage of the population of Galilee--some estimate as high as 15%--were absolutely destitute and lived off the land, some as homeless poor, some as brigands.
Jesus' first missionary foray is among the rural poor and the dispossessed. His approach was to rally the countryside, generating social momentum along the way, which would then pressure the larger towns and cities to follow. This formula has been used by many leaders of mass movements over the centuries. So far as I know, Jesus was the first to employ it. In addition to being the Savior of the World, Jesus was a shrewd political strategist and innovator.
Image: Bertrand Bahuet, Healing of Peter's Mother-in-law, St. Peter Chapel, Curbans, France