+ In the Love of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sometimes it's hard to see any relationship between the two Sunday readings, but this morning it's easy to see— for both Paul and Jesus nothing is more important than proclaiming the Gospel.
For Paul (1 Corinthians 9:16-23), proclaiming the Gospel is so important that he writes, "For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all."
The Greek is even more emphatic than the English— so here's a more literal translation of the passage into English: "Free from all, to all I enslaved myself."
And to whom has Paul enslaved himself?
First, Paul has enslaved himself to his fellow Jews who have not become Christians:
"To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law"— that is to say, under the law of Moses, and so Paul is still talking about his fellow Jews— "I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law."
Second, Paul has enslaved himself to those who are neither Jews nor Christians:
"To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law."
And third, not only has Paul enslaved himself to Jews under the law and to non-Jews outside the law, Paul has also enslaved himself to some of his fellow Christians:
"To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak."
Those who made it through the snow last Sunday will remember this earlier passage in Paul's letter, when Paul writes to the "strong" parishioners who are eating meat that has been sacrificed in a pagan temple:
"But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you eating in the temple of an idol, those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall" (1 Corinthians 8:9-13 passim).
I subscribe to WordNik, which emails me a new word every day.
Last Wednesday, the word was "eleutheromania."
It means "a mania for freedom; excessive zeal for freedom."
My first thought was, how could one have an excessive zeal for freedom?
As it happens, the "eleuthero" in the word "eleutheromania" is the same word Paul uses in today's reading.
But Paul didn't suffer from eleutheromania— Paul knew that some things were more important than freedom, like not becoming a stumbling block to the weak, for whom Christ died.
And so I wonder what Paul might say today about eleutheromania and Muslims and measles?
First, I think Paul would say that to caricature Mohammed is an example of eleutheromania.
And so I can imagine Paul writing something like this today:
"To the Muslims I became as a Muslim, in order to win Muslims," "for the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Galatians 5:14).
And I think Paul would also say that giving parents the freedom to refuse vaccinations is also an example of eleutheromania, because the failure to vaccinate puts not only their own children but the whole community at risk. As Paul wrote to the church in Rome: "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:9-10).
For Jesus (Mark 1:29-39), proclaiming the Gospel is too important to keep bottled up in Capernaum. But more is at work here, so let's see what St. Mark has to tell us:
"Jesus left the synagogue at Capernaum, and 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."
Talk about freedom!
First of all, Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law on the Sabbath, even though healing on the Sabbath was against the law of Moses.
And second, Jesus takes her by the hand— even though a male Jew would never touch an unrelated woman.
But even more remarkable, Mark tells us that Peter's mother-in-law begins to serve them.
Now the Greek word for "serve" is diakonia, from which we get the word "deacon."
Later on in Mark's Gospel, Jesus tells his twelve disciples this:
"You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.
"But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant [deacon], and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
"For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve"— not to be "deaconed," but to "deacon"— "and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42-45).
Now back to this morning's Gospel:
"That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And 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. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed."
Now notice what happens:
"And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, 'Everyone is searching for you.'"
Simon and his companions hunted Jesus like a predator hunts for prey.
And in Mark's Gospel, the word "searching" is only used in a negative way— as when the chief priests and scribes and elders— and Judas— search for opportunities to kill him.
Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus said to Peter and Andrew and James and John, "Follow me," and they followed him. But now they are searching for him and hunting him down.
No wonder Jesus couldn't wait to get out of town!
What a contrast with Peter's mother-in-law— Jesus heals her, and her response is to serve, and in so doing she is truly following Jesus.
May we, like Peter's mother-in-law, follow the One who says, "But I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:27c).