1 Corinthians 9:16-23 | Mark 1:29-39

Last week, in the gospel reading that comes immediately before today’s, we heard that, having set a man free from whatever it was that bound him, Jesus’ fame began to spread. Jesus, we read today, followed the accepted pattern of life for an observant Jew of his day; he went to a family home – that of his friends, Simon and Andrew, and spent the Sabbath there. Come evening, when the Sabbath finished, the news of Jesus’ healing drew many in need to his door, and he healed them too.

And then, the next day, he did two things that I’d like to reflect on.

He prayed.

And then he moved on.

Jesus praying is one of those things that is at the same time obvious and bizarre.

He was a Jewish man. He attended the synagogue. He grew in a family who knew the prayers of the people. As part of his community, he would inevitably have been part of the prayer life of his community.

We just assume that Jesus did the equivalent, in a first century Jewish context – because the Gospel writers don’t tell us, they just take it for granted. And I guess, so do we.

But on another level, there’s something strange about the idea of Jesus praying.

For he was the one who only ever did what he saw God doing. Who knew more closely and intimately the character, the nature, the will of God than anyone ever born. Who so often is shown as just instinctively knowing what God would say of a situation.

Jesus seems so completely in tune with God – so completely, God, in fact – that the idea he needed to pray is somehow counter intuitive. If he needed to pray in order to know what God wanted, does that mean that at other times, he, like us, was just making his best guess?

As I say, the gospel writers don’t explain Jesus praying to us. But what they do tell us – and therefore, surely, expect us to take notice of, take guidance from – is something about Jesus’ life of prayer. There are a number of moments in the gospels, turning points, as it were, in the life of Jesus, where the writers make a point of telling us that Jesus turned to prayer. Perhaps the most famous is the garden of gethsemane; but it’s here at the start, and elsewhere at key moments in his ministry.

In the gospel reading today we see Jesus at the end of the first really big day of his ministry. It had begun in the synagogue, with Jesus teaching the people, proclaiming the good news of the Reign of God, and then dramatically demonstrating the power of that Reign, the reality of his words, by overthrowing the force of evil that had possessed a man of the city.

And at the end of a really successful day, when for the first time since he began to wander around the villages preaching, his words seem to have been backed up with God’s power, and his message has made an impact, made a difference, when everyone is searching for him, when he has become the talk of the town.

So, Jesus says “Great – get everyone together. Book out the biggest venue in town. While there’s so much interest, while I’ve got this audience begging to hear more; this is a golden opportunity for the good news to be heard.”

What sort of start-up preacher is going to walk away from an audience who are seeking him out, wanting to hear more?

But of course, that’s exactly what Jesus does.

He prays, and then with a deep clarity and confidence, he decides to move on. “Let’s move on,” he tells Simon and the others. “We need to proclaim the message in places that haven’t heard it yet. That’s what I came to do.”

After an early morning spent in prayer, Jesus knows that what matters most is not to give more of himself to those who have already received, but to go to those who haven’t yet had that chance.

In his letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul describes his attitude, his driving passion. The obligation, he says, to proclaim the gospel, the good news, is upon him.

His ministry was characterised by movement. In the maps in any Bible that has them you’ll find one or more labelled “Paul’s missionary journeys”, showing the extent of his travels throughout the ancient world.

But his movement was not just geographical. It was much more profound than that:

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law … so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law … so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. 

Paul was willing to do pretty much anything to share the good news – to share the love and welcome of Jesus Christ, you might say.

He spoke and wrote passionately against those who would insist on obedience to the law, and in particular, on circumcision as a condition of faith in Jesus; but then he arranged for his travelling companion to be circumcised when it was clear that there were Jewish people who would not listen to them otherwise.

He insisted that since idols were nothing but wood or stone, eating food sacrificed to them had no moral weight; but also that he would absolutely abstain if by eating he made it harder for anyone to hear the message of Jesus.

And when he successfully established a group of followers of Jesus in a place, he moved on.

Jesus, in our gospel reading, and Paul, in his ministry share this unusual trait.

They weren’t held captive by their own success.

And I wonder if this isn’t sometimes a bigger problem for us in the Church than we realise.

If we are not held by the things that we do, that we know how to do, that we do well, that we have done.

If we are not inclined to focus our attention, our efforts, on continuing to build up what we have already got, to build on what we have already achieved.

So perhaps this is a story for a new year. A story of Jesus, fresh from his success in Caperneum, praying, and then moving on to somewhere new.

Perhaps we have an invitation here.