After the display of Jesus’ authority in word and deed, it should not surprise us that large crowds began to follow and clamor for Jesus. I once heard a pastor say regarding our prayer life that “The two most common motivations for us coming to Jesus are, ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘Please help me.’” That seems to be the case here.
Before we summarily dismiss the crowds though, we should note that Jesus takes the time to minister to the individual person, as well as the crowds. It begins with healing Simon’s (soon to be changed to the name Peter) mother-in-law who was ill with a fever (vv. 29-31). The immediacy and thoroughness of the healing is marked by the detail that “she began to serve them” after the fever left her. This kind of healing was not a temporary relief from pain, or comfort, but a thoroughgoing restoration to wholeness. This same kind of healing takes place later that evening, only this time it is the entire town gathered at “the door” of the home where Jesus was.
The term for “healing” is therapeuo. According to ancient Jewish sources it deals not just with the immediate physical ailment, but even the psychological and even spiritual well being of the person. (For more along these lines, see Dr. A. Nyland, Mark: The Source New Testament with Extensive Notes on Greek Word Meaning). It’s interesting to note a few things about this word to help shape our understanding of what is going on. First, the term employed usually referred to a physical response to teaching or instruction. It was something that followed a proclamation of some kind. Second, it often marked a permanent change in lifestyle as ongoing attention and activity would be employed on the part of the one healed; it was not just an action on the part of the healer. Third, it is the Greek word employed to talk of the human-element to healing. In the New Testament, the more popular word for healing is iaomai. When this word is used, it’s to draw attention to God as the agent of healing (confirmed also by the usage of the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint); therapeuo was used to denote the healing activity on the human side. Finally, the opposite of therapeuo is often the word for “neglect”. This helps our understanding of what is happening in this passage.
Jesus is bringing much needed attention to areas of this town’s life that have suffered under neglect – the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual needs – as a result and manifestation of his kingdom proclamation. This is addressed to individuals and to crowds, to demoniacs (Mark 1:21-28) and a woman sick with fever (Mark 1:29-31). This section shows us that Jesus has a comprehensive kind of authority. He rules over the common concerns of every person, not just their spiritual lives. He cares about fevers, demons and false teachers. And the people respond. Why?
Jesus has an irresistible influence because he has absolute authority over everything. What we have most longed for our whole lives – truth, beauty, satisfaction, wholeness – is unmistakably present in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Of course we want Him! But he is calling for followers, not just people to receive a moment of attention, or healing. He is a king setting up his kingdom. Of course we want somebody who meets our needs, but will want them to rule us? The question for us as readers of this is: “Is this somebody that we’re going to follow?” If he is, where will he lead us?