“Did you get the message?”
That’s a simple phrase with oh so many possible! Meanings! It can have a simple straightforward meaning. The “message” being a conveyance of information. Maybe a phone call, a direction, a message of time, place, direction or detail left in a note taped to a door or left on a counter.
And then there are the other “messages” that are sent and received.
The cold shoulder when you meet.
The invitation not extended.
Being left out of an e-mail exchange or loop of calls or information with other people and then the excuse coming, “oh, we simply forgot to include you” – which ends up being a message itself of how important you are to the process, or to the people, or whether you are seen as an asset to the process or a liability.
“Did you get the message?”
We also communicate with more than just words and notes.
We communicate with our attitudes, our expectations, and our omissions. Messages are sent by the kind of body posture we assume as we speak or listen, by the subtle changes in appearance that we make, whether we “dress up” for someone or “dress down”, primp our hair or do any of those small personal gestures.
We communicate with shifts in tone during our conversations, with the faces we make, the expressions we use, the roll of an eye, the dismissive wave of a hand.
“Did you get the message?”
You weren’t really welcome.
Or, “Boy, were they relieved to see you walk in!”
In the Gospel for today we are forced to do a little back-tracking in Mark’s Gospel. After the events of Simon’s house, Jesus is praying by himself and the disciples come to find him. They inform him that everyone is looking for him, and his response to that is ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’
His response is a bit of a head scratcher at first, because you have to go all the way back to the arrest of John to be reminded of what the message was that he came out to proclaim. “The Kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.”
That message was not explicitly spoken in words in the events of Simon’s house.
At Simon’s house they show up at a bad time for getting dinner. Simon’s mother-in-law is ill, and so cannot do the expected and anticipated work of providing Hospitality.
Jesus’ response to that information is not to say, “oh, well, sorry, let’s move on and not be a bother.”
No, instead he takes her by the hand and lifts her up. She is healed so that she can serve them. She is healed so that she can fulfill what would have been the cultural expectation of hospitality.
She is healed, in other words, so that she can do what it is her desire to do. We could go so far as to say that she is empowered by Jesus to do what she was called to do.
The message (so far as we can tell) of the Kingdom of God having come near is not spoken of in words in the events of the whole city. We can assume that the gathering at the doorway to receive healing from various diseases and to have their demons cast out is because of Jesus’ notoriety, what he has done in the Synagogue and to Simon’s mother-in-law, but there is no mention of what Jesus speaks at all. We are only told that he would not let the demons have their say because they “knew him.”
And yet, we could say that the message of the Kingdom of God coming near had been received.
The whole town wouldn’t be at the doorway if the word about Jesus and what he could do had not gotten out. The Kingdom of God had indeed come near was visible in the serving Simon’s mother-in-law was doing, and in the people who were leaving the house cured, in right mind again and in peace of spirit.
We don’t know what words were spoken by Jesus (if any), but the message was clear. God was present. A new reality was available to a people who had previously had to simply put up with what ailed them.
Which brings me back to that little scene there with the disciples coming to find him, and telling him that everyone is looking for him.
It’s always dangerous to try to get into the mind of Jesus, to wonder what he is thinking, what his prayers may have been. But one can’t help but think that maybe Jesus was thinking,
“They have gotten the message here.”
If everyone is looking for him, they have gotten the message that God’s Kingdom has come near and so it’s time to take that message on to where it is intended to go, to the neighboring cities, to the rest of the world.
The message doesn’t need words always.
Often the message is received or communicated by actions, gestures, and activity.
“Let us go on, for that is what I came out to do….”
We might be so bold also as to observe that when the Kingdom of God comes near, what we see are people engaged in what they came out to do in the first place. Not simply Jesus, but those who have received a glimpse of the Kingdom.
Simon’s mother-in-law providing hospitality.
Those who had been troubled in spirit and infirm of body going back to work, providing for family, connecting with loved ones, able to do at last what they set out to do. Able to do what God had gifted them to do. Able to be of service again, and to live freed from that which had laid them low.
The message that the Kingdom of God has come near does not always need words. Sometimes what it needs most is actions, and people empowered at last to do what they had been called to do in the first place.
It is at this point that the gospel leaps through the centuries to come home to us.
What if that is truly the case?
What if proclaiming that the “Kingdom of God has come near” is not so much a matter of words as it is actions, and not fancy or spectacular actions, not having the biggest or the best or the most active ministry or program, but in the mundane actions of daily life where we find ourselves simply doing what we were called and empowered to do in the first place.
What if proclaiming that the “Kingdom of God has come near” is as simple as just getting along with your mother-in-law?
What if proclaiming that the “Kingdom of God has come near” is as mundane as making a try of sandwiches for your guests?
Surely we have felt like that as we’ve done it for a funeral, or provided lunch for hungry workers or those who have no means to cook themselves? Maybe we’ve even sensed it in the hospitality extended to family or friends. This is what I was meant to do! This is how I serve!
What if proclaiming that the “Kingdom of God has come near” is as simple as how you treat those who show up on your doorstep, not turning them away but attending to their hurts and casting out the demons of distrust and suspicion?
This is what I was meant to do! Welcome you here!
What if this is the great revelation made by Jesus in his time of prayer after that long day at Simon’s house. What Jesus needs to do to bring near the Kingdom of God has less to do with the words that are spoken than it does with the actions that are taken, and prompted in others?
“Everyone is looking for you.” The disciples say.
And it is as if Jesus nods and thinks “Message conveyed….let’s move on…”
And by extension, what if that is also the case for us?
We are intimidated about proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God coming near. We get all tongue tied, or we want to run the other way when the “E” word (Evangelism) is used.
“Oh, I can’t do that, I don’t want to be preachy!”
But this Gospel seems to be telling us is that Jesus has already shown us that our best efforts at proclaiming the good news of God coming near may have less to do with what we say and more to do with what we do. It has everything to do with living into what we’ve already or always been called to do in the first place.
Could you get into Evangelism if what it meant for you to do it was be hospitable, doing what you would have done anyway?
Could you imagine that what Jesus does is heal you for the sake of you getting back into the fray of life, doing the things for which you are already called, gifted, and talented, and doing them well, and then passing that spirit forward to those around you?
Is there a slight smile of satisfaction on the face of Jesus whenever he sees a tray of sandwiches passed around, or a worried father’s burdens lifted enough to go home to hug his spouse and child, or a youth who was troubled in spirit getting along with his or her parent?
“Message conveyed, let’s move on….”
Perhaps we make way too much of the miraculous and looking for it.
Maybe we make this “Kingdom of God” too mysterious, when Jesus seems to prefer to make it more mundane, more “everyday” and “everyone.”
The Kingdom of God has come near wherever people are liberated to do what they are already called and gifted to do.
The Kingdom of God comes near whenever we work to help people live, and whenever we free them from the things that get in the way of their simply living and caring for others.
This is the discovery in the Gospel today. God is present in the healing and the casting out, and in the lives that resume once healing takes place.
Did you get the message?