The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Lead, Kindly Light *
During this season after the Epiphany, as our natural days are growing in light, little by little and by degrees, so too are our eyes being opened to the light of Christ. This gradual revelation of the divinity of Jesus, which culminates in his transfiguration upon the mountain next Sunday, is contrasted with the urgency of St. Mark’s gospel, and its tenor of hurry up and wait to be amazed and astounded.
In his book, Meeting God in Mark, Rowan Williams echoes what St. Mark would have us seize upon, that we are about to encounter a reality alarmingly beyond human expectation and human capacity. This resurrection life that Jesus proclaims at the opening of Mark’s gospel, and is depicted in our gospel passage is not however without its friction, ambiguity, and complications. Rendered as “the whole city gathered around Jesus’ door”, Mark is honest about the enormity of suffering and the toll Jesus’ ministry takes upon him. After curing many of disease, though not all, and casting out many demons, though not all, Jesus retreats to a deserted place in the dark of the morning to pray and replenish his energies. But he is pursued by his disciples who hunt him out. The translation of the Greek verb “hunt” (katadioko) doesn’t quite capture its underlying connotation of contention; that Simon Peter and his companions aren’t just looking for Jesus, concerned for his whereabouts, but that they do not approve of his behavior. What is he thinking, running off like that? We’ll set him straight.
This is not the only instance in Mark (8:32, 6:36), or the other gospels, in which the disciples question what Jesus is doing, or not doing. I would imagine that we can relate, having tried more than once to pin God down on our own terms, thinking we know best, telling Jesus to do things differently, and wanting the Holy One to be made in our partial divided image. Ever tempted as humans are to pride and idolatry of self, it is all too easy to resist and oppose the divine will.
Indeed, our gospel from Mark is strewn with divisions and opposing polarities.
We read of light and dark; enclosure and open space; interiority and exteriority; stillness and movement; contemplation and action; possession and freedom; disease and cure; the disciples and Jesus. The scenes alternate between evening and morning; private and public; a few people inside a house to a crowd outside to solitude in a dark and deserted place. That Jesus is able to teach, heal, and pray in such ever changing circumstances and contrasted locales, and reconcile their inherent tensions, means his faith must have been extraordinarily nimble and resolute. And so he presses on further into Galilee to proclaim the good news, his fame and notoriety escalating (Mark 1:28) along with the opposition which that created.
Whether in persons, demons, or systems, Jesus confronts and casts out that which opposes and diminishes the merciful and compassionate kingdom of God. He does so by demonstrating authentic authority, which in its Latin root augere, means to increase and make grow, not oppress and control. Jesus wants to set us free and give us the liberty of that abundant life, as we prayed in our opening collect. When he entered the house of Andrew and Simon, and James and John, his first disciples, he took Simon’s fevered mother-in-law by the hand and lifted or raised her up. The verb to “raise up” (egeiró) is used in many of Mark’s healing stories (1:31, 2:9, 2:11, 3:3, 5:41, 9:27), underscoring “resurrected life” that is at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.
In the gospels, when an individual is “raised up”, it is never only for that person but connected to the whole of God’s kingdom. Healing in Christ is always relational and seeks reparation of any breach between the soul and God or any broken relationship. Even the woman who hemorrhaged for twelve years, when healed, becomes “daughter”. She is no longer isolated and outcast but restored to right relationship with God and within her culture and society (Mark 5:34).
When Simon’s mother-in-law is freed of fever and raised up, she is restored to her children and family, after which she began to serve them. The word for serve is diakoneo, meaning to wait upon and to minister to, and from which the church gets the word deacon and its distinctive ordained role of serving at the intersection of the church and the world. Being that this is the first healing we encounter in Mark’s gospel, the connection between being raised up and then serving is significant. We are not only freed from sin or disease or death but liberated for service and generosity of the kingdom spirit. That the first person to be healed is a woman is equally as significant in showing us that from the onset of his ministry Jesus embraced those on the margins of his culture.
Whatever our mortal age and circumstance may be, God reaches down to touch us and lift us up; breath by breath, step by step, suffering to suffering, glory to glory, we are changed into the likeness and image of God, and God’s most wondrous and merciful love. Our Old Testament passage from Isaiah holds the weakness and transience of human life in tension with the everlasting strength and enduring power of God.What seemed impossible for the ancient Israelites—an end to exile, and renewal of strength and broken faith—is reconciled by the truth of what is possible with the Lord who is the everlasting God, and Creator of the ends of the earth, who does not faint or grow weary . . .
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.
Waiting for the Lord does not mean idleness or passivity but that we are actively looking for and anticipating God’s coming renewal—as Jesus was when he retreated by himself to pray. What might you be waiting on the Lord for? And where in your life might you sense a challenge or invitation to transformation?
What was asked of the Israelites, and Jesus, and what is asked of us is faith; faith in the God who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Faith in the repairer of the breach; faith that bridges opposition that it become unified ground. When Jesus heals someone, what does he so often say? Go now, your faith has made you well—not your love or your good deeds—but your faith. Faith that is nimble and resolute and leads us to love and new life in Christ.
From the heart of being, steadily and by degrees, God is recreating and reshaping the world—meaning us—from the inside out; for we are the mortar and bricks of God’s kingdom of light. In the words of the recently canonized * John Henry Newman: So long thy power O Lord hath blessed me, sure it still will lead me on. O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till the night is gone, lead, kindly Light, lead thou me on!