They were a small group of people in a distant land. People who depended on each other; people who are closer than family. There were times when they were resting and times when they were busier than people should be. It was a group of people who would have never chosen to be together: they were thrown together in the midst of a war. They were alert to the needs of the people who came to them, and reached out their hands in healing. They were also mobile, for that was part of their name. Yes, they were the cast of the TV series M*A*S*H.
It’s a stretch to call that group a Small Christian Community, even though they had a resident priest. They were people who shared a vision of the sanctity of life, even while they were up to hijinks and quips that made us laugh. Their passion to be healers kept them working together even when they didn’t get along together personally (sometimes they didn’t get along together at all). They weren’t people of obvious faith, but in some ways they were people who responded to the call to discipleship.
Today’s Gospel starts in Capernaum, the place where Jesus, Simon and some of the other disciples made their home during their adult lives. Going to the synagogue was a regular Saturday commitment, and the meal on the Sabbath was a sacred ritual that was extremely important to a Jewish household (it still is important to Jewish households today). For Simon’s mother-in-law to be sick was a sign that death was near: it was a reality that would hang over thehousehold. For Jesus to reach out and raise Simon’s mother-in-law to health was a restoration of harmony in the household, and the word used to describe what the woman was able to do isn’t about waiting at tables, but service to the community. As a healer, Jesus was more than a medicine man: for the people who sought him out, he was hope that they could have a life free from identity as a victim of a divine displeasure.
It would have been easy to stay at home. With the reputation that Jesus had, he could have stayed in Capernaum and let people come to him. He had security, he had a small group of disciples, he had a community that supported his work. He was famous. But he disappears. They wake up one morning and he’s gone. The disciples seek him out at his retreat, and Jesus has a new mission for them. They would go out as a small Chrisitian Community, supporting one another, and reaching out: proclaiming the good news and healing a damaged world.
This group that goes out at the end of the Gospel reading is a model for us as Christians. It’s easy to get comfortable, to domesticate our faith, and to sit still and let the world come to us. It’s easy to snuggle with like minded people, solve the problems of the world from a distance. Going out into an uncertain world is scary, looking for the woundedness of the world to offer healing is difficult for any one person to attempt, even someone who has been washed in Baptism and sealed in the Spirit as a follower of Christ. Jesus had sent the disciples out two by two to preach in the nearby villages, but that’s only a beginning. He could have slipped away from the disciples at Capernaum as he did his home there: he could have gathered new followers around him everywhere he went and left them behind to carry on. But Jesus doesn’t give us a “lone wolf” example of living the Gospel. As Americans, we value our independence, but spreading the Good News, healing the world, is something that we are given to do together.
We gather at this table as the disciples did after their journeys, and we are sent forth from here as a people. We are called to do so together, not only in spirit, but working in tandem with others, and drawing strength from others we share faith with. We are called to a larger Church, we are called to be parish, and we are called to be small Christian Community with those we can share faith with in a very real way. After sharing the Body and Blood of Christ, we’re called to do what Jesus and his disciples did: be mobile messengers of hope and healing for all.