Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Third Sunday before Lent
Mark 1. 29-39: "A Healing Household "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Share together experiences where people within Christian communities have been helped to discover their gifts and, once recognized and affirmed, have developed and used them. Think also of situations where peoples’ gifts (maybe yours) have been clearly evident but not affirmed and used.
A Window on the Text
Jesus has just carried out an exorcism in the local synagogue in Capernaum (v 21f). Now we find him in the home of Simon and Andrew where Simon’s mother-in-law is ill with a fever. The home becomes a place of healing as Jesus ‘raised her up’ (v31- note here shades of the resurrection). But not only that, she is given a ministry within the household.
Scholars point out that the word for ‘serve’ (v31) can be understood as someone speaking on behalf of another, not just serving in terms of cooking, cleaning and waiting at table. It we accept this understanding then Simon’s mother-in-law represents and acts on behalf of Jesus: it could be she presided at communion or expounded the scriptures. This widens our understanding of the role of women in the early Christian household communities and challenges the long history of exclusion of women that continues to this day in some churches. It means that for Mark’s community, prominent leadership roles were open to women as well as men.
Interestingly, the action of Jesus draws people to the house (v32). The home becomes a healing centre for the whole town.
Following this very draining experience, Jesus withdraws to the wilderness to pray (v35). This is indicative of a rhythm of life and ministry that we all do well to copy: burnout plagues the Christian church today. Prayer lies at the very heart of effective ministry.
Jesus then goes on a Galilean preaching, healing and casting-out-of-demons tour with his disciples (v35-39). Jesus’ mission never gets stuck in one place. There is always a fresh challenge to embrace.
Responding as a community
- Who needs to be released (lifted up) in your community and enabled to minister? What, if anything, is preventing that from happening?
- To what extent, and how, is healing and care of the vulnerable and socially rejected exercised within your Christian community?
- How does your community encourage and support among its members the development of a rhythm of engagement and withdrawal in ministry?
- In what ways are ‘lifting up’ ministries being extended beyond the confines of your fellowship? What opportunities exist for extending such a ministry?
- What fresh mission challenge might your community embrace this year?
Invite someone to light a candle and place it in the centre of the circle as you become mindful of the presence of the risen Christ in your midst.
The prayer leader then says: The Lord is here
All reply: His spirit is with us.
Pray that your Christian community as a household of faith might become increasingly the setting for concrete experiences and realization of the resurrection. Pray that this reality may be experienced in the midst of the joys and sorrows, the tragedies and triumphs of life.
End by saying the Prayer of St Francis (below):
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, let there be pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
for your mercy and for your truth’s sake. Amen.
or by singing: Make me a channel of your peace (found in many hymn books).
More Background Material
The Greek word for serve in verse 31 is diakonein from which we get the word deacon (see J N Collins, 1992, Are all called to ministry? - The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, esp. pp 86-108).
Michael Trainor, along with other scholars has researched the role of women in the early Christian households. Trainor says that ‘the verb (diakonein) has a specific meaning in the ancient world. It is generally associated with one who is called to represent and act on behalf of another. Simon’s mother-in-law … carries out this ambassadorial function. This healed woman is called to minister to the community that gathers in this household renewed by Jesus, liberated and realizing the resurrection in its midst. The ministering woman becomes a tangible sign to this community of the power of the resurrection. The Greek tense suggests the action… is ongoing. It is not confined to one moment is history but is a function that continues into Mark’s day.’ From Michael Trainor, 2001, The Quest for Home, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, page92.
Roy E Cogill, in a paper entitled, The New Testament Church (1979), and produced in a condensed version edited by Alan McNabb, says the following:
‘The title ‘deacon’ comes from the Greek work diakonia and its associates. A deacon (diakonos) is someone who engages in diakonia. The traditional understanding has been service, often in the sense of menial charitable activity performed in a humble manner (where humble has come to mean servile).1 Examination of the diakonia word group in the New Testament, however, shows first, that writers used it in rich and varied ways and, second, that translators have obscured this complexity and often skewed the meaning of texts.2 The influential work of John N Collins explored the meaning of diakonia in secular usage and then applied this to the New Testament literature.3 Collins found that just as today the term ‘minister’ can denote someone of high status and authority holding cabinet-rank in a government, so those formally recognised as exercising diakonia in the ancient world were leaders holding considerable positions. Collins concluded that the primary meaning centred around agency, message and attendance, where deacons
- act as ambassador or agent of change commissioned to carry out a task on behalf of a superior, or as a mediator to involve others in doing so;
- deliver a highly important message as a spokesperson, go-between, courier from the messenger’s superior;
- attend upon a person or household, performing various tasks for or on behalf of them.
Thus in New Testament usage the central idea of diakonia has to do with being a responsible agent on behalf of a superior (God or the Christian community), carrying the authority necessary to fulfil a vital commission. In exercising authorised leadership amongst others or acting as an ambassador, however, deacons are to remember the radical redefinitions of power, dignity, authority and leadership contained in the words and example of Jesus.’ (page 17. The full text is available at: http://www.biblestudyguide.org/ebooks/cogdill/nt-church-condensed-cogdill.pdf.
- Bowman Stephenson’s second principle for deaconess formation and behaviour, however, was ‘discipline without servility’ (Concerning Sisterhoods, (Printed at the Children’s Home, Bonner Road, 1890), p.64).
- For example, in Acts 6 the word stem in relation to the Seven is translated as ‘distribution of food’ (v. 1) and ‘waiting/service at tables’ (v. 2), and in relation to the Twelve apostles as ‘the ministry of the word’ (v. 4).
- Diakonia: Re-interpreting the Ancient Sources (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1990).
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion