5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – February 7, 2021
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147:1-6; 1 Corinthians 916-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39
Jesus’ Miracles: “Works of Power”
We’ve started hearing about all of Jesus’ miracles: his exorcisms and healings. Today, the miraculous healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, last week demons. And we can easily think of Jesus’ miracles in a very particular way. For example, that the miracles prove that Jesus is God. Or, Jesus performs miracles to attract attention & give people things to talk about. And those explanation—well, that’s not what Mark was trying to say. Yes, Jesus is God, but Jesus never performs a miracle and then says, “Ta-da! I’m God.” That’s not the point. To top it off, Jesus usually forbids people from talking about these things, precisely because (incredible as they are) they’re prone to misinterpretation.
And he’s right. Because we usually misinterpret them too. Miracles are some genie in the bottle type stuff or something; God breaking the laws of nature. But that’s not quite it. In the Gospel of Mark, the word we translate as “miracle” or “signs and wonders,” literally, it means, “works of power.” In other words, these actions don’t function as proof of Jesus’ divinity, or to attract people’s attention, no. Rather, it is a clash of powers!
Remember Jesus’ sermon that we heard just a few weeks ago? The sermon that summarizes everything Jesus is doing, that gives the context for who he is and what he is all about? “This is time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” These miracles are meant to support this message. These miracles demonstrate that this message Jesus is preaching isn’t just a bunch of hot air.
The power of the Kingdom of God is clashing with the power of the kingdom of darkness, the kingdom of sin and death. And in these “works of power,” the power of darkness is overcome by the power of One whom the Spirit of God has empowered.
Think about it like football. Football is a clash of powers. Someone can come along and proclaim the “Chiefs’ Kingdom,” he can talk a big game, but at some point we have to see that backed up, in real life. And what we have called miracles are actually just “works of power.”
People call Patrick Mahomes’ a god, but his “miraculous” plays are not “proofs” of his divinity, they are “works of power.” Tyreek Hill is “miraculously” fast and agile, but again, it’s simple a “work of power.” And then Andy Reid’s “miraculous” coaching and schemes—he just out coaches and out smarts the other team. My point being—the Chiefs winning so much isn’t a “miracle.” It’s a “work of power,” it’s them just being the better, stronger, faster, smarter team. Their “power” is greater.
The Context of the Healings in Mark: The Good News of the Kingdom of God
And so these “miracles” aren’t what we think of when we think of “miracles.” They are “works of power,” a “clash of powers.” Jesus is announcing the “Kingdom” of God. And this Kingdom is imbued with a power.
Again, when we think of kingdoms, we usually just think of kingdoms like some nation-state, something you need a passport to get in to.
F j But a “Kingdom”—when the Bible talks about a kingdom—it is talking about a source of power, a source of authority, something that has power over something. Think about the Israelites in Egypt: they had fallen under the kingdom of Egypt, the power of the Egyptians—and there is the Exodus which liberates them from that power. Scripture makes these other references about how we have fallen under the “dominion of sin, ” the “kingdom of sin,” you could say. So when Jesus comes preaching, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand,” what is he saying? He’s saying, “God’s power, his rule, his dominion over the word has arrived!”
Jesus is announcing the Kingdom of God, a sovereignty which is becoming an event in history in a new way. The true God, the living God is active and at work (like he always has been) but now, in an event, in a whole new way. And that event is the presence and action of Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God is becoming an event in history in and through Jesus from Nazareth. And how do we know this? How does Jesus back this up? How does Jesus demonstrate that he is not just talking a big game? Think back to Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan river, when the Spirit of God came down upon him, to empower him. (That wasn’t just some “nice thing.”) Because that Spirit empowers Jesus to perform these works of power, to demonstrate the power of this Kingdom. There is a clash of kingdoms, and the Kingdom Jesus is announcing is defeating demons, and darkness, and sickness, and death—the Kingdom of God is clashing with the kingdom of darkness—and it is crushing it, literally. Demons are cast out. People are healed. These are signs of the kingdom of darkness falling.
“That’s nice, but how does this make a difference?”
There is just one final detail about what Jesus is doing. One detail that makes all of this come together: the Sabbath. This story of Jesus’ miraculous healing of Simon’s mother-in-law happens on the Sabbath.
Later on, Jesus is going to keep getting in a lot of trouble for working on the Sabbath, for performing “works of power” on the Sabbath. And Jesus knows that he’s not supposed to work on the Sabbath, he knows that. And yet, whenever Jesus chooses to initiate some work of power—in all of the Gospels, whenever Jesus initiates a healing or exorcism or miracle, he always, always does it on the Sabbath! People come to Jesus six days a week asking him to heal them—but they take the Sabbath off, they know the rules. This Gospel today: they literally wait until “after sunset,” when the Sabbath ends, and then start coming to him—they’re chomping at the bit to get to him. But Jesus chooses to accomplish his work on the Sabbath; he will only initiate these “works of power” on the Sabbath! Why?
It’s because Jesus’ mission, his task, the preaching he’s doing, the Kingdom he’s announcing, the miracles and “works of power” he’s performing, all of it—it’s not about proving he’s God, or to be a nice guy, it’s all about inaugurating the Kingdom, it’s about doing what the Kingdom does. And what the kingdom does is renew the world, a world overcome by sin and death. The Sabbath, the seventh day, that was the day God rested from creation. Six days of creation, on the seventh day, rest! On the seventh day, on the Sabbath day, that is when creation has been completed, that’s when God rests, that’s when God’s like, “Yeah, creation has finally be completed.”
And so Jesus makes a very big point about healing on the Sabbath because what he’s saying is, “What I’m doing is about renewing this creation. There’s something in creation that’s gone totally wrong and I’m here to renew it.” And when Jesus rises from the dead, when he is raised up and walks out of the tomb, he shines as the the first-born from the dead, the first-born of the new creation.
And before you think I’m making this all up, go back to this Gospel today. This work of power Jesus is doing is to prefigure this new creation. The word used here when it says that Jesus “helped up” Simon’s mother-in-law—I know it doesn’t sound like it, but that is the same word Mark is going to use to describe that Jesus “rose” from the dead, “rose up” from the dead. Jesus “helping her up,” Jesus “raising her up” is showing what the power of the Kingdom does: the power of the Kingdom is a power that can “raise up.” And not just “raise you up” from sickness, or something, but it is a power that can raise you from the dead. Jesus’ works of power are prefigurations the ultimate power of the Kingdom: it is a power which can not only resuscitate you, but a power which can “raise you up,” make you a new creation.
Reclaiming Sunday: Resurrection, New Creation, the Eternal Sabbath
Our hope as Christians, as Catholics—our hope is for precisely this. Our hope is for the day when God will complete the work of renewing creation in and through Jesus Christ, for the day when all of creation is made new, a new heavens and a new earth. Our hope is for the day when we will rise from the dead. Are we aware of that? When we say in the creed, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,” are we aware that we mean that very literally: us, you and me, rising from the dead, and life in a new world to come; a concrete, literal, new-heavens-and-new-earth world to come.
In the resurrection of Jesus by the power of the Spirit of God, God shows shows that he has begun re-creating the world—Jesus, the first-born of the new creation, the first-born from the dead. The dominion and power of sin is undone: death no longer has power.
Just like on the first day of creation, when the Ruach hovered over the waters and began creation, so again on that easter morning—this Ruach gives new life, resurrection. Fifty days later, God sends this same Ruach, this same Spirit, down on the Apostles and Mary—and this new creation continues. And through the Ruach at work in and through them, it has continued, like a great river, a great flow of people. And this great river reached all the way to India by the second century. It invaded the world down through the centuries. And one day it reached my mother, and through her it reached me when I was less than a month old.
The reason we gather every Sunday is because of this! Sunday, the first day of the week, the first day of God recreating the world. On Sunday, we gather to be recreated by His Word and His very flesh and blood. Jesus continues to performs “works of power” within us by the Spirit. We will be sent out the other six days, and the Spirit will work through us to renew the world. But for one day, on this one day we rest. We allow the Lord to come and to perform his works of power within us.