Friday, February 2, 2018

From Capernaum to Vancouver: Reflections on Mark 1.29-39 (RCL Epiphany 5B, 4 February 2018)

From Capernaum to Vancouver
Reflections on Mark 1.29-39

RCL Epiphany 5B
4 February 2018

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

Mark 1.29-39

            1.29 As soon as they left the synagogue, [Jesus and his disciples] entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.  31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

            32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  33 And the whole city was gathered around the door.  34 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.

            35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”  38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”  39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

            From time to time the Sunday readings lead down a path that I did not imagine following.  The texts become catalysts for thoughts and observations which, if the truth be told, go into a ‘far earth orbit’.  Today is just one such day.

            In January 2012 I found myself in Kfar Nahum, the ‘village of Nahum’, or as we call it in English, Capernaum with a group of Jewish and Christian clergy.  Some of my more lasting visual memories of the entire trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories are grounded in that morning’s visit.

            At the time of Jesus Capernaum was a fishing town of about 1,500 residents on the western shore of the Lake of Galilee.  It was a relatively new community that had been established about one hundred and fifty years before Jesus chose to live there and use it as the centre of his Galilean ministry.  Despite the turmoil of the times there is no evidence that the town ever had a defensive wall and I imagine that most people knew each other.  Capernaum remained inhabited into the 11th century and it appeared to have escaped destruction during any of the wars and uprisings of the centuries that followed Jesus’ ministry.

            Proof of the relative peace and safety of the town is the fact that a new synagogue was built in the 4th or 5th century over the synagogue that Jesus knew and taught in.  Within thirty meters of the front door of the ‘new’ synagogue archaeologists found the ruins of a Byzantine church, built about the same time as the ‘new’ synagogue.  This little church, smaller than the synagogue, was found to have been built over a small house that had clearly been a site of Christian pilgrimage for some time.  This house may well have been the home of Peter and the location of today’s story from the Gospel according to Mark. 

            So, when I hear this story, I see in my mind’s eye what I saw six years ago:  the ruins of a small town where Jews and Christians seem to have lived in relative peace --- even after an earthquake around 749 and the coming of the Muslims around the same time.  There is no evidence of a mosque having been built in Capernaum nor of the destruction of either the synagogue or the church by the Muslims at any time.  Other than a Latin inscription honouring one of the Christian archaeologists who excavated the town carved on one of the synagogue’s columns, there is no sign that Christians ever desecrated the synagogue nor that Jews ever desecrated the small church sheltering Peter’s house.

            It is no secret that we are living in times when powerful voices are raised that demonize the ‘other’.  One need not focus attention to events and personalities south of the border.  Hate crimes against Jews and Muslims continue to be perpetrated in Canada today.  The legacy of discrimination against aboriginal people still echoes in our country when we look at our child protection services or our correction services or our health services.  The housing crisis that has touched someone known to each one of us here today has led to public appeals to limit and/or penalize ‘foreign’ ownership of property.  Just last week the Synod Office sent out a reminder to parishes that, if they own a rectory, they must indicate to the City of Vancouver whether it is vacant or occupied.

            In today’s gospel reading we are presented with a Jesus who reaches out to heal the mother-in-law of Peter, who is surrounded by people who are seeking healing for the inner demons that prevent them from living life fully and who chooses to go out into the world in order to bring the good news to people well beyond his circle of friends and neighbours.  This Jesus seeks out the ‘other’ and brings them into the embrace of a loving and compassionate God.  This Jesus foregoes the security of kith and kin, home and hearth, in order to achieve God’s purposes for hurting world.

            In hearing the gospel reading today and remembering that day in Capernaum, I realized how little I know about the three families whose homes share the shelter of the large tree in the southeast corner of my backyard.  I’m not expecting that we shall all become the best of friends, but I realized that, as a disciple of Jesus, I am called to know their names and have some sense of who they are.  In hearing the gospel reading today and remembering that day in Capernaum, I realized how important it is to greet the Muslims I meet in my daily life with ‘salaam’, the same greeting of ‘peace’ that Jesus extended to his disciples on Easter two millennia ago.  In hearing the gospel reading today and remembering that day in Capernaum, I realized how much I need to do, as Rector of this Parish, to nurture and empower our life together so that we welcome the ‘other’ with the same hospitality as Peter’s mother-in-law offered to Jesus.

            We all know the ‘others’ in our lives.  How can we, as disciples of Jesus, be agents of that community which seemed to exist so long ago in Capernaum?  This is truly our ‘home’ work, our commitment to nurture places of ‘help, hope and home’ well beyond the walls of this parish church.  For there are demons out there --- racism, religious and social prejudice, isolation --- to name but a few.  But such demons cannot resist the love and compassion of Christ made known in us and through us.

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