5th Sunday after the Epiphany
- Epiphany 5.21 “When Jesus Does You a Favor…” Mark 1:29-39
When Jesus does you a favor, it’s all good, right? I mean it’s great; Jesus’ favors are the best and just leave you feeling so happy—the world all sunshine and buttercups, and no drawbacks, right? Of course! That’s like, duh, Xnity 101! Jesus is a super nice guy who happens to be God(!). He is kindness and benevolence, incarnate. Any encounter with him will leave you glowing with light and love and happiness.
So, what I want to know is: what happens when it doesn’t? What shall we do with the guy for whom Jesus does a favor and he’s not all knocked out about it? What if he feels like Jesus’ little favor has actually left him in a worse predicament? That guy would be a fu… oolish, ungrateful snot. That guy would simply not get Jesus. We should drum such a fool right out of the church and never let him back in, right?! Who’s with me? Who would hurt the bubble boy?!; er, I mean who wouldn’t love Jesus doing you a favor?!
Friends: let me introduce you to Simon, son of Jonah, brother of Andrew, aka Peter; aka “Stone”; one time fisherman, sometime Apostle of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, 1st confessor of Jesus as Christ and Lord, 1st denier of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, 1st to bring the Gospel to gentiles, 1st Bishop of Rome (maybe?), 1st in the heart of his country-meh… uh, fellow Christians.
Yes, I’m afraid it’s true: Peter is the man, the guy who doesn’t fully appreciate it when Jesus does him a favor. At this juncture, it’s probably too late to excommunicate him. But we can maybe do Orwell’s two minutes of hate on Simon, or something like that, and feel more righteous ourselves, thereby. OK? Well, here we go…
It seems clear to me that Peter is not too knocked out about the favor Jesus does for him in our Gospel today—if not positively ungrateful (myself I go with “positively ungrateful—a little chafed about it, actually”). Perhaps this is not clear to you, because you’ve been a little brainwashed by Sunday School propaganda, er, I mean lessons that teach us that Peter is a hero, a saint and we should never see him as anything but lovely, kind, and good?
But, an unbiased bible reader will know this is not the case with Peter. Peter is just like us, except maybe more so, which is why I like him—a lot. Remember, Jesus himself called Peter “Satan” the devil himself, right after Peter confessed Jesus as Christ and then denied he would go to the cross. And if Jesus (an omniscient guy and Judge of All!) says: “Peter is Satan!” well, I think Satan is bad and I’m not going to say nice things about the devil. I mean, are you?
And there was that unfortunate business with Peter, denying that he had any idea who Jesus is, insisting that he was certainly no follower of Jesus, in Caiaphas’ courtyard with that servant girl and the crowing cock. That wasn’t good (or kind). And let’s be honest: “Stone” got that nickname because he sank like one, that stormy day out on the sea, doubting Jesus can make him walk on water. Stone could be slow on the uptake—for the prince of the apostles. Remember the time he let Jesus sit in his boat to teach and afterward Jesus goes: “let’s go catch some fish; your boat looks empty” and Peter told Jesus: “Dude: there are no fish out there” and “I don’t like fishing with amateurs” and how stupid Stone looked afterwards?
Yes… the unbiased reader of the bible will not be surprised that when Jesus does Peter a lovely favor, he can be not only ungrateful, but positively grumpy, not grasping it as gift.
Will you read this Gospel with me, with an open mind? “Immediately Jesus left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon (aka Stone, aka Peter, future prince of the apostles) with James and John (the big four). Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever (probably it’s the corona!) and someone told Jesus about her. And Jesus says “I can help” and Peter goes “Whoa, Jesus. You’re our guest! We don’t make our guests work. Besides it’s the Sabbath and doing miracles is surely against the Law? I’m sure she’ll be fine; and even if not, she’s lived a full life.” And the servant goes: “Uh, actually she’s doing pretty bad. Looks almost like some bioweapon we’ve never seen before. Doc says she’s on death’s doorstep. Rabbi Levi’s on the way to do last rites.” And Peter goes: “Jesus, it’s just a bad cold! She’s hearty! She’ll be fine! Seriously, we’ve got left over pizza and beer in the fridge. Let’s not panic, put Jesus out, or make him break the law!”
Jesus goes: “it’s not work, for me; I like helping people”. He says this with a boyish grin; takes mom by the hand, lifts her up, and the fever leaves her (her sense of taste/smell returns) and she began to serve them dinner (her famous tuna casserole!) says she hasn’t felt this good since she was a little girl—like she she has a new lease on life, like she might never die! Peter’s wife hugs him: “Oh, sweetie! It’s so amazing. If your friend Jesus hadn’t been here, to do us this huge favor, we might have lost mom!” Simon says: “I know”.
At sundown (end of the Sabbath on which work is strictly forbidden) the whole town is gathered at the door with all kinds of sick folk; Peter mutters, softly, to himself: “Be careful what you wish for!”
The next day, Jesus is up and out of the house before dawn to pray. Peter and the others search for, and find him, and go: “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus says, “Well, we’d better clear out before they find me!”(which hardly seems nice)?
And what shall we say about this? In the NIV text, if memory serves correctly, Jesus says to Peter, “Come, follow me. You’ll have to leave your house, your family, your job, and be a hobo for the rest of your life. You can’t go home again. Besides, your mother-in-law (who lives with you) isn’t wrong. I just gave her lots more robust years.” And Peter is like “I see what you did there. [sighs] OK; road sounds good! Let’s go!”
Jesus is always doing favors for us like this; and I believe (quite seriously) that all his “favors” are like this—double-edged swords, that problematize the comfortable, old, settled, sinful lives we (think) we love in order to push us out onto the road with him—into a holy life that is a positive pain before it promises any kind of gain. Jesus kills in order to make alive. Jesus wounds in order to heal.
He promises Peter and the other 12 that they will be “hated by all, for Christ’s sake!” But in the world’s hate and scorn—in their martyr deaths—Peter and Co. find a higher, holier, more heavenly love life.
Jesus’s so frustrating, sometimes. His “favors” give us a glimpse of life from self and sin set free that makes our old, sinful lives (that seemed perfectly happy, comfortable, and safe!) suddenly appear insipid, dull, and deadly. And then he disappears down the road with a sardonic “you coming with?—or you gonna stay home with your incredibly healthy mother-in-law?” Just so, we follow (slightly chagrined) the wise-cracking Christ; like Jack Kerouac chasing after Neal Cassidy…
Hey! Jesus does you a favor, right here and now: he gifts you a little foretaste of heaven by his word, body, and blood—to make you unhappy with what is; to get you chasing after what could be, with him. In the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.