As we heard two weeks ago, Jesus shows up proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near (1:15). Then Jesus makes it happen. Jesus preaches the good news, and heals the sick and suffering.
This is how it has to begin. We need Jesus to come to us. We cannot make the kingdom happen. We cannot get to God on our own. God’s grace comes first. Christ comes to forgive our sins, to offer us freedom and life, to show us the way, to bring God’s kingdom to us so that we can be part of it. Without Christ’s initiative, we would be out of luck.
Thankfully Christ does come, bringing God’s kingdom. In today’s reading, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. Word races around Capernaum. Soon the whole city is gathered at the door, and Jesus heals them all. Kingdom is happening. It must have been a glorious day.
And, as I preached last week, kingdom keeps happening. The good news of God at work is all around us all the time. Metaphorically speaking, Jesus comes to our homes and showers blessings of grace and healing and love on us just like he did on them.
Our first task is simple. We have to open our eyes to what God is doing, and give thanks.
But it doesn’t stop there, and that is the main lesson of our reading for this morning.
After a glorious day, when the disciples wake up the next morning, Jesus is gone. Jesus is off praying in a deserted place. Even when they tell him about the gathering crowds, Jesus doesn’t return to Capernaum. Instead Jesus leads his disciples to neighboring towns throughout the region. He doesn’t even pause to say goodbye.
That is good news for the people in the neighboring towns. They, too, will get to meet Jesus, to experience the kingdom Jesus brings near, to encounter God come in the flesh, with all the blessings that entails.
But what about the people left behind in Capernaum? Clearly they hoped Jesus had come to stay, that Jesus would continue to heal their ailments, that Jesus would protect them from harm. They must have been bitterly disappointed to learn that Jesus had moved on.
And that is one of the lessons from this story. Jesus does come to us. Kingdom does happen all around us. God is at work in our world. We are people defined by the good news. BUT Jesus keeps moving. And as a result, sometimes we can’t see the good news in our lives, sometimes we hurt and Jesus seems far away, sometimes God’s kingdom, which was so near, seems to vanish into thin air.
God comes to us, and helps us and heals us, and sets us free, and gives us life. But God does not promise to take away all our pains and all our hurts. God does not promise to make our lives easy. Miracles happen. But not all the time, and not on demand.
Sometimes, like the people of Capernaum in our reading, we look for Jesus, who was just with us, and he seems gone.
Thankfully, the story does not stop there. After all, Jesus comes to us as God with us. Jesus himself promises to be with us always, to the end of the age. That promise means Jesus is never far from us, no matter how it seems. And so you should not be surprised to hear that Jesus does not abandon the people of Capernaum.
On the morning of our gospel reading, Jesus sets off. But six verses later, “after some days,” as Mark puts it, Jesus is back in Capernaum (2:1). Once again, people gather around, and Jesus teaches, and Jesus heals.
That is the rhythm of the Christian life. Sometimes we feel Jesus right with us, supporting us and loving us and helping us to face whatever challenges come our way. And other times, Jesus doesn’t seem so close and so helpful. But Jesus does not abandon us any more than Jesus abandoned the people of Capernaum. Jesus might seem to have vanished, but he does come back.
In the hard times, we can take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is coming back to us soon, that the Christian life has a regular rhythm, a kind of ebb and flow, and that after bad times, good times come again.
That is an important lesson of our gospel reading. Sometimes Christ will seem absent. But even then we can rely on him to come back to us.
But our gospel reading also teaches us what we can do in the hard times when Christ seems far away. We can follow the example of Simon and his companions.
When Simon and the other disciples realize that Jesus is missing, they go looking for him. The word Mark uses to describe their search is “hunt.” Hunt is a striking word. This verse (1:36) is the only time the Greek word appears in the entire New Testament, but in other places it can mean hunt down like what you do to an enemy. The disciples do not want Jesus to get away from them, so they go after him, and they look hard, and they will not be denied.
And those hunting disciples find Jesus. Their success shows us how we too can hunt for Jesus when he seems absent. They show us where we can expect to find Jesus.
They find Jesus in prayer. We can do the same. If Jesus seems far away from us, we can go to a place of prayer, and we can perhaps find Christ there. That is an invitation to pray when Christ is with us and also, even more!, when Christ seems far away.
The disciples also learn that if they want to be with Jesus, they will have to follow Jesus as he goes about God’s mission. Jesus goes ahead of us out into the world to share the good news of God’s kingdom, to bring life and freedom and forgiveness and healing and joy to others just as Jesus has brought those things to us. And Jesus invites his disciples to come with him on God’s mission. And Jesus invites us to come with him on God’s mission.
The lesson is clear. When Jesus seems far away, we should pray and we should serve. We should go to God in prayer, and we should go to God’s hurting children in mission. That is where Jesus says he will be. That is where we will find Jesus.
Jesus comes back to us even when we fail to hunt him, just as Jesus comes back to the people of Capernaum who didn’t join him on God’s mission to the neighboring towns. But we don’t have to wait. We can join Jesus in prayer and in mission anytime.
For that, I give thanks to God. I thank God for Jesus Christ, who brings God’s kingdom near to us, and who keeps bringing God’s kingdom near no matter what we do. I give thanks to God for the invitation to pray and to serve with Jesus even when he seems far away. And I pray that we can accept God’s invitation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.