3rd Sunday Before Lent ~ Have you not heard?
Isaiah 40:21-31; 1 Cor 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
In the name of the Father…
If you go to Galilee today there are various sites you can visit which have not only overtones, but pretty likely locations in the gospel narratives. Two weeks ago we heard of the water-into-wine miracle at Cana in Galilee, and you can still go there, see authentic water jars, and meet folk renewing their marriage vows. You can go to the ruins of Sephoris, a Roman town which was thriving in Jesus’ time. It is very possible that Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, worked in Sephoris as a carpenter and builder - a teknon in Greek - a worker of stone and wood. Jesus himself may well have been apprenticed to him there, learning the trades of stone and woodwork. So much of his life preceded his public ministry remember, and he may even have had some kind of private ministry among the workers of Sephoris, colleagues and friends of his father. He would certainly have had friends and relations of his own. Such is supposition based on likelihood.
More likely - extremely likely even, is another site, in what was then Capernaum, which is very much visitable as the site of the house of Simon-Peter’s mother in law. Leaving aside mother-in-law jokes, and the fact that the thought that Simon Peter was married is somewhat problematical for the Roman Catholic Church, the potential inconvenience of the narrative actually lends it a note of authenticity. And you can go to visit it even today. There is a glass roof over the remains, and a basilica nearby where the miracle that forms today’s gospel reading is celebrated. It’s a rather beautiful place, very green, with the greatest array of succulent cacti I have every seen. But more importantly, there is a real sense of place, not only of veneration, but of likelihood - the likelihood that even if the house singled out as Peter’s mother in law’s isn’t actually the right one, the one next door might be. Here is a place, with a synagogue round the corner, where Jesus walked and talked and wheeled and dealed and healed. Yes, the synagogue is basically still there - with fine pillars, and Peter’s Mother-in-law’s house is about 100 yards away. Stand there and read this story, and it suddenly takes on a new life - a reality hitherto barely imagined.
Similarly - and I knew some of you have done this - sailing on the waves of Galilee, seeing the 2000 year old fishing boat that is there, or simply standing on the shore, opens up new vistas of Biblical reality, sympathy and clarity. For it brings home the mundanity and the uniqueness of the life and work of the man whom history has come to call Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.
So, what was he up to, this Jesus, who performed miracles among his mates, but yet who inspired some of the locals to at best ignore him, at worst seek to throw him off a cliff? It is certainly strange to contemplate - particularly in our incredulous culture, who would seek and find some plain explanation for anything a bit weird, or simply accept it as weird and move on. Although, it wasn’t actually that weird in those days, and a miracle cure was more or less the only kind of cure one could hope for.
But Jesus preached too - preached in the synagogues - the local religious gathering houses - of Galilee. And what did he preach? Ah well, that would be telling! Yet we know what he preached - we know he quoted from Isaiah. We know he read from the scroll that proclaimed the good news, of sight to the blind, of the lame walking and of captives set free. Reading from the scrolls of Isaiah was something that Rabbis did there and then, and Jesus did it too. It is partly why his disciples sometimes called him Rabbi, and why our own patron Mary Magdalene addressed him as ‘Rabouni’ when she met and recognized him on Easter morn. Rabouni - Rabbi, means ‘teacher’.
So it is quite likely that Jesus may have read and or preached on the scroll of Isaiah from which this morning’s Old Testament reading has come. I wonder how he might have emphasized it? It would have been a good riposte at the end of today’s gospel: we are told that he proclaimed the message, but not exactly what that message was. Mark takes it for granted that we know what he would have said. And to be sure, we can be sure that the message was steeped in the prophecy of Isaiah. Which mans it might have been something like this:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
Sometimes the text just speaks for itself.
Haven’t you heard, you idiots? Haven’t you heard that it is God who made the heavens and the earth? It is God’s hands in whom we are brought to birth and in whose arms we die. If you haven’t head it, then you’d better listen up. And if you have, then you’d better wise up. Because, no matter what Cambridge professors of physics and Oxford dons in philosophy tell you, it is God who made the heavens and the earth, and it is God in whom we must hope and trust, and God whom you must fear and love. For when you do, all shall be well - all manner of thing shall be well - and the salvation of God, revealed in his only Son, will come down like showers on all who turn to him. This is the gospel of Christ.
It’s so familiar we’ve forgotten it - or at least forgotten how to notice it. ‘Haven't you heard?’. Yes, of course we’ve heard, over and over again. So much so that many have stopped listening, stopped noticing, stopped caring. That’s why Christ came: that the ears of the deaf might be unstopped, that the lame walk, and the captives go free.
Most of us are deaf to his call. So many are crippled by grief or doubt. And we are all captives to sin.
So this is a message for all of us, not just for mother-in-laws. It’s a message not simply of yesterday, but of today, and tomorrow. Christ, who changes not, even amidst the changes and chances of this fleeting world - Christ is the same yesterday, tomorrow and today. And whatever Archbishops and Prime Ministers say about gay marriage, human rights, Middle-Eastern conflict or the price of fish; the message doesn’t change. Even though many of us are deaf, crippled or imprisoned.
Similarly the circumstances of creation are changeless too. Or rather their changeability is an inherent, unchangeable part of the created order. All around, change and decay we see - but this is how it is. Our God who changeth not, abides with us, but even so, we need to remember what creation is and how we are wonderfully but briefly made. If we lose sight of that we lose sight of ourselves - we lose sight of each other, and we lose sight of God. So we become blind, as well as deaf, lame and captivated by the changes and chances of this fleeting world.
But do not despair, for there is good news - oh yes there is certainly good news! It’s what Jesus was saying two thousands years ago and it’s what I’m saying now, and it’s what we should be saying to our children and our children’s children: That in the creative gift of God, who brought everything we can conceive into being, and made everything so glorious - even the things we do not understand or will never see - in that gift of life, is revealed a heart of love. And that heart of love is in turn revealed in his only son Jesus Christ, who came and walked and talked and wheeled and healed and healed among us, to bring eternal light to the gloomy world in which spiritual deafness, lameness, blindness and imprisonment had become the accepted norm.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Have you not seen?
You have now.
The Rev'd Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 05/02/12