So Jesus goes to Simon and Andrew’s house. James and John go along. (These four are the only named disciples at this time.) Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.” (A lot of unpacking just in that sentence.). A couple of women in our group yesterday had issues with what came next: “The fever left her, and she began to serve them.” I hadn’t noticed this before as something that might be offensive or need explaining away as an issue of a different time and culture.
What interests me is the push and pull that Mark expresses between Jesus healing ministry and his need for prayer. “The whole city was gathered around the door” as he cured many. That was how he spent his time at sundown, the beginning of the new day. Later, “in the morning, while it was still dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” This is the part that grabbed one of the priest in our study group yesterday. The push and pull between the “activities” of service (does that include the service of Simon’s mother-in-law?) and the need to spend some time in prayer. The church ministers in yesterday’s study group, including me, identified with this tension. For me it is easy go get involved in the activities of the day without taking what I call “quiet time,” that time for silent prayer and reflection.
The silent time is a priority for me only inasmuch as, now that I am retired, I try to devote time in the early morning to morning prayer, spiritual reading and reflection. I don’t share this with many people. I just shared it with Mary the other day. I see it as a risk to admit that I want this time. If I tell others, will they see me as hypocritical or as trying to be “holier than though”? If not the latter, then why tell them? I only feel the need to tell Mary, a close friend, my spiritual director (because he is my guide in how to spend this time) and Dean Matthew, my pastor. My quest is to be able to listen more deeply. Trying to listen to God, in others and in myself, will further me in this. Or so I am told. And I believe it so.
But it is difficult. Jesus went out early in the morning while it is still dark. How was it that he was able to get up that early? He must have been tired from healing all who were brought to him in the previous evening. Was it intentional? Was it God’s call? His disciples hunted him down to let him know that everyone was searching for him. But he did not return to the town where they had been. He moved on, proclaiming the message in other synagogues and, thus, in other towns and he continued casting out demons as they traveled. Did he continue to search for the quiet times in the early mornings when it is still dark? I believe that he did. But the search must have been intentional in order to be able to listen and to let God heal.
That is my struggle. It is the struggle of many, if not all, whom God calls to minister to others. There are many types of service. Perhaps that is why Mark notes that Simon’s mother-in-law gets up and “began to serve them” after Jesus healed her. That service is different from the healing service that is Jesus’ ministry. Both are needed. Otherwise Jesus would not have had the time to heal and might not even have had the time to address the push and pull of service to others and service to self. Those who God calls to “go deeper” in their ministry must intentionally take the time to go to the deserted place and pray. I didn’t do this enough when I served as an administrator. My ministry in the catechumenate suffered because of the lack of taking quiet time for prayer. Those I hope to guide in their journey are seeking the same, whether they yet know it or not. Part of ministry is to help them find their quiet time to pray.
This is the distinction I have tried to make for years. My job was to be the parish administrator and operations manager. My ministry was in the catechumenate and in reading/proclaiming the Word and in officiating at liturgies of the hours. These suffered from the lack of finding and taking the time to a deserted place to pray. Now God has given me that time. Thank God.