He Took Her By the Hand
“He took her by the hand, and lifted her up.”
The flu’s been going around lately – I know a number of people here can testify personally to that fact. And usually it’s miserable but not serious, but sometimes it can have devastating effects. Earlier in the week it hit the news that a shelter in the city has been fighting the flu, with one death and eleven hospitalizations. No light matter, and we need to remember to pray for them. And that’s with the antibiotics and other aids that modern medicine provides. In many other places and most other times around the world, modern medicine has not been available to help fight sickness.
Imagine then the helplessness of a first-century woman getting a fever, with no hope of medicine to turn to. Mark’s Gospel today tells a brief story of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, in bed with a fever. We don’t know if it was serious, or if it was just some mild illness that might have passed on its own – but either way, as soon as Jesus found out, he didn’t hesitate. He went right to her bed, took her by the hand, and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve him.
The Season of Epiphany
Today is the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany of the Lord, which we celebrated on January 7. Between that day and the start of Lent in a couple weeks, we are walking through the season of Epiphany – a whole season devoted to some of the most fundamental questions that humans can wrestle with: who is God? How can we know him? How does he reveal himself to us? What is his nature?
Little by little, week by week over this season, we’ve been having the delight of seeing God reveal himself to us, through worship on Sundays, and through our Alpha course on Tuesdays. It has been such a privilege to journey with many of you in Alpha as we have been grappling weekly with what it means to know God. And in our Sunday morning worship, we’ve also been on a journey through this season of Epiphany. Listen to this progression of where we’ve come.
On that first Sunday of Epiphany on January 7th, Beth invited us to draw near like the wise men, and to recognise in the face of a baby the very presence of God. David, the next week, brought us into the story of that baby, grown up, being baptised in the River Jordan and revealed as the beloved Son of God. He helped us see Jesus as the one who enters the wilderness of our lives and chases out the demons there. The next week we heard the story of Jesus calling his first disciples to follow him, and Jesus’ call for us today to also follow him – whether taking the first steps of a journey of faith, or following him into new places of forgiveness and healing and restoration. Last week, Erin so beautifully played out the difference between knowing about God, and being in a relationship with God – “a knowing that is a form of love”; learning to know and love God through prayer and community and the Scriptures.
Today the journey of the revelation of the Son of God continues, as we are invited to see Jesus as personal, immanent, concerned with the details and cares of our lives – and also as transcendent, immense, the One who created the universe and calls every star by name. Two very different aspects of the same wonderful God.
A Touch of the Hand
We’re still in chapter one of Mark’s Gospel, and a lot has already happened – Jesus’ baptism, temptation, the calling of disciples, and he healing of an unclean spirit – and that’s only the first half of the chapter. The Gospel of Mark is abrupt and quick-paced, and doesn’t linger over details. But Mark considered this particular healing, mentioned in our reading this morning, important enough to pause on and include in his narrative.
Listen to the details of this story.
“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.”
Sometimes in Jesus’ ministry he healed from a distance, and sometimes with a simple word. But not here. Here, he came right into this unnamed woman’s personal space, and tenderly took her hand, and raised her back to health, freeing her so she could serve him joyfully.
A little vignette showing Jesus as a tender God, a compassionate God, a God who is near.
And then in Isaiah, and in the Psalm, we are presented with a God who knows a quadrillion stars by name.
A Quadrillion Stars by Name
Our passage in Isaiah today was written to encourage the Israelites as they were living in exile in Babylon. They were facing a return to Jerusalem and the Promised Land. But they had been in Babylon for years, and had settled down, and become accustomed to life under a foreign power. The thought of being uprooted again and daring to go back to a place of pain and loss was not a pleasant one. And so the prophet Isaiah needed to remind them who their God is. Have you tried counting the stars lately? he asked them.
Where I grew up in northern Manitoba, the night sky was a marvel, and I could almost never go outside without staring up in pure wonder. A quick google search suggests that there are at least one quadrillion stars (that’s 1 with 24 zeros after it) in the observable universe, and it often felt like I could see most of them from my backyard. Thousands of years ago, when Isaiah was writing, it must have been even clearer, with no smog or light pollution at all. Can’t you just picture a bearded prophet shaking his staff up at the night sky and gesturing wildly. “Do you see every single one of those stars?” he cries. “Our God… our God, the one who called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the one who led us out of Egypt, the one that we followed to the Promised Land in the first place – this God created every single one of those stars, and he knows each of them by name.” His knowledge is so vast, we can’t even conceive it. But not just the stars, Isaiah says. The one who created all of those stars – he cares about them, and about every other detail and particle in this universe. Every person. And he especially cares about the vulnerable, the poor, the weak, and the powerless. Many years before Jesus reached down to physically take the hand of a sick woman, Isaiah describes in our passage today the actions of this God in some of the most often quoted verses in the Bible:
“He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Doesn’t this sound like a description of Jesus’ actions in the house that night? Isaiah, long before Jesus was born, was able to see the nature of God clearly enough to describe not only the immensity and vastness of a God who created the universe, but also one who at the same time was caring for the weak, and the weary, and the sick mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever.
The Psalmist picks up this refrain in one of the most beautiful songs of praise in the Bible in Psalm 147. We just sang it. “Praise the Lord who heals the brokenhearted” – the same Lord who “counts the number of the stars and calls them all by their names”, because “great is our Lord and mighty in power; there is no limit to his wisdom.”
Great is our Lord!
Jesus Takes Us By the Hand
The revelation of God: infinitely huge – too great to understand or wrap our heads around. And infinitely compassionate, caring about the littlest, the saddest, and the most hidden parts of our lives.
I don’t know what you are going through right now. There are so many areas of stress both in our world and in our personal lives. Climate change is causing vast devastation. Rising gas prices, food and housing costs, and unemployment rates often leave us feeling scared, helpless, and struggling to pay the bills. And closer to home we wrestle with relationship troubles, problems at work or school, health issues. But whatever it is, you can be sure that Jesus does know about it. He sees, he cares, and he is wanting to take you by the hand, raise you up, and help you bear it.
We’re drawing near to the end of this beautiful season of Epiphany. But it’s just the beginning of this journey of revelation, discovery, and love that Jesus is inviting us on. Next week is the story of the Transfiguration, where we see Jesus revealed on the mountain as the very God of majesty that Isaiah describes. And then we are in the season of Lent, where we will be invited to learn to take up our crosses with Jesus and follow him as he moves toward Jerusalem.
But for today, there are two things I want to leave you with. One is this: the image of Jesus looking at you with eyes of love and delight and compassion, and reaching his hand to take yours.
And the second is a question. When Simon’s mother-in-law got up, she turned and served Jesus, and that too is an important part of the story. In what practical parts of your life is Jesus looking to heal you so that you can turn and serve him? Is it to become more involved in church? Or is it maybe to take a step back from your activities, and spend more time sitting at his feet in worship? Is it seeing which of our neighbours here in Weston-Mount Dennis we can serve practically, or is it taking the first step in healing of a relationship at home? Whatever you feel Jesus calling you to, know that he is with you, and supporting you, every step of the way.
My hope and prayer for you this week is that you will allow Jesus to take your hand, and to bring you into a new place of healing and service and delight in this God who knows every star by name.