The last line of this section describes the ministry of Jesus in Galilee: “he went into the synagogues everywhere in Galilee, heralding and casting out demons.” I call this “practicing the kingdom of God.” That is, Jesus announces that the kingdom of God has drawn near and demonstrates its presence through redemptive acts. This is the basic message of Jesus (1:14-15) and the substance of his ministry–the presence of the kingdom in a broken world.
The story in this section is evidently told from the point of view of Peter which is not surprising if the tradition is true that Mark’s Gospel is a record of Peter’s preaching. The story about Peter’s mother-in-law never names Jesus but focuses on Peter’s circumstances. The line that the whole city appeared at the door of Peter’s house (1:30) has the ring of an eye-witness. And Peter leads the other disciples in the search for Jesus when he is missing in the morning (1:36).
Whether or not this is the case, the three stories (Peter’s mother-in-law, the healing ministry in Capernaum, and Jesus’ early morning adventure) are progressive in character. We begin with a simple healing at Peter’s house which then explodes into an evening healing service that the whole city attends. The healing in the home is incidental but it solidifies Peter’s relationship with Jesus. The crowd at the door flows from his exorcism at the synagogue as people flock to him to experience wholeness in the bodies and minds. In the morning we find Jesus alone in prayer, and perhaps that is a response to the busied activity of the previous day. When Peter (and others) find him, Jesus states his intention to go to other villages in Galilee because he has come to herald the appearance of the kingdom.
This movement underscores the importance of the message of Jesus in his healings and exorcisms. We could focus on the compassionate nature of Jesus’ healing/exorcist ministry as a model of care and love (and the Gospels sometimes do this). We could also focus on the authenticating function of his healing/exorcist ministry (and the Gospels sometimes do this as in Mark 2:1-12). But neither of these are the primary function of his healing/exorcist ministry. Rather, it is a demonstration of the message. The word about the kingdom is put into practice or, better, the kingdom of God is realized or actualized through these redemptive acts. They reverse the curse present in the world. The kingdom of God redeems brokenness.
This is exactly how Peter characterizes the ministry of Jesus in Luke’s summary of his words to Cornelius in Acts 10:38, “he went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with him.”
But Jesus did not want the healing ministry or exorcised demons to distract from the message. Jesus was not a sensationalist. The message about the kingdom had priority and the healings/exorcisms bore witness to the presence of the kingdom. The good news must be heard and the healings must be understood through that lens. They are no mere “feel-good” events or popularizing strategies. They are redemptive acts tied to the kingdom of God. He doesn’t even want the demons to speak because what they would reveal (i.e., his Messianic status) would distract people from his message about the kingdom of God.
Mark accentuates Jesus’ alone time in this account. It follows a presumably long evening of healings and exorcisms that involved the “whole city.” The crowds pressed around him and even the next day they were still looking for him. Such attention–which has the allure of approval, vanity and human glory–becomes itself a temptation. Jesus sought out a deserted place in the early morning to focus on prayer. The word “deserted” (desolate, or desert) is the same word as the term for “wilderness” used earlier–place where Jesus was tempted by Satan. Jesus returns to his desert experience in order to gain strength for ministry, resist the temptations of popularity, and focus his ministry. He emerges from that alone time with a renewed sense of his ministry–”let us go to other towns to heard” the kingdom rather than feed the ego by remaining in Capernaum. Jesus knows his purpose; he knows why he has come. He cannot simply stay in Capernaum.
As we follow Jesus, we, too, must remember why we follow Jesus, that is, to herald and heal. We announce the presence of the kingdom of God and we demonstrate its presence through redemptive ministry. By this we practice the kingdom of God. We engage in healing and reconciling acts that reverse the curse in the world. We called to embody the kingdom of God now, in both word and deed. The ministry of Jesus, which we follow, enact and embody, is both the heralding of good news and the enactment of that good news in the lives of people, in the brokenness of the world.