Mark 1:29-39. Jesus Went Off to a Deserted Place.

The reading for the fifth Sunday in Ordinary time continues our narrative of the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. The first chapter of Mark is somewhat hurried, with Mark compressing a number of different events into a single introductory chapter. In verses 29 to 39, Jesus visits the house of Peter with his closest disciples. Then he heals those who are ill or possessed by spirits. Finally, Jesus goes off to pray alone, and then he continues preaching.

Jesus Prays Before He Engages in Ministry

A number of themes repeat in chapter one. There is a recurring cycle of preaching and healing in chapter one. In this passage, we note (Mk 1:35) that Jesus rose very early, went to a solitary place, and prayed. Previously (Mk 1:12-13), Mark also mentioned that the Spirit sent Jesus into the desert, where he was tempted, but at the same time, the angels ministered to him. Mark’s is an abbreviated account of Jesus’ “forty days” in the desert, where he was tempted by the devil three times (Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13).  Mark mentions Jesus going off to pray in a solitary place twice (verses 13 and 35) in the course of one chapter. Mark tells us that Jesus seeks the wilderness a third time in verse 45. Mark is making the case that prayer is an important foundation for ministry.

"Jesus in the Wilderness." Charles de La Fosse, 1690. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg. The large crowd of attendants are actually angels.

Peter has a Mother-in-Law?

The story of Jesus healing Peter’s “mother-in-law” is common to Mark, Matthew (8:14-15) and Luke (4:38-39). In Greek, the term used is πενθερά  (Strong’s 3994, penthera) which means mother-in-law.  In fact, we only find penthera used in the Gospels, in the context of this story. Clement of Alexandria says that Peter had both a wife and children, and that his wife was martyred in Rome before he was. Either way, Jesus heals the mother-in-law of Peter in the presence of Andrew, James and John.

Jesus Heals. What Does This Say About Who He Is?

In verses 32 to 34, Mark tells us that the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.  Mark then tells us, matter-of-factly, that he healed these people. This is the second of four instances in chapter one where Jesus heals the sick or casts out demons. Mark believes that it is important to establish, early in his Gospel account, that the healing power of Jesus speaks to who he is.

In chapter one, who does the author of Mark’s Gospel believe Jesus to be?  John the Baptist says, After me will come one more powerful than I. The spirits that Jesus drive out exclaim, in fear, that Jesus is the Holy one of God. When Jesus is baptized, a voice from heaven is heard saying, You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.  Most importantly, the author Mark quotes the prophet Isaiah and says, prepare the way of the Lord. In chapter one, the Sacred Author suggests  via the testimony of others that Jesus is “the Lord,” “the Son of God,” and “the Holy One of God.”

Mark 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue

Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left 
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

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