February 7, 2021 / 5th Sunday after Epiphany / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Isaiah 40:21-31 / 2nd Reading 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 / Gospel Mark 1:29-39
Two Kinds of People
There are two kinds of people in this world: there are introverts and there are extroverts. Introverts like to think things through before speaking. They wait and watch before getting involved. Social interaction saps their energy. Extroverts think out loud – they talk their way to meaning. They like to dive into new situations. They are energized by social interaction. Solitude makes them restless. There’s a clear indicator of which type a person is. When a landline telephone rings, the extrovert hopes it’s for him. The introvert hopes the call is for someone else.
There are two kinds of persons in this world: the Thinkers and the Feelers. Thinkers approach life rationally and objectively – they rely on their brains. They are persuaded by logic. They are analytical and don’t take things personally. They have a high regard for facts. Feelers approach life emotionally and subjectively – they trust their hearts. They’re most convinced by how they feel. They are sensitive and take most things personally. They place a high value on relationships. Thinkers and Feelers would both endorse Paul’s directive to “speak the truth in a spirit of love.” Thinkers would emphasize speaking the truth. Feelers would stress the necessity of love.
There are two kinds of people in this world. The Book of Proverbs describes two kinds of people: the wise and the foolish. Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice (Proverbs 12:15). It is foolish to enjoy doing wrong. Intelligent people take pleasure in wisdom (Proverbs 10:21). A fool’s pride makes him talk too much; a wise man’s words protect him (Proverbs 14:3). The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (But) the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).
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There are many other such typologies, dividing the human race into two kinds of people. Of course it is also true that persons can evolve and change. Winston Churchill observed: “Any man under 30 who is not a liberal has no heart, and any man over 30 who is not a conservative has no brains.” The gospel narratives also present two kinds of people: People who need help – and people who are able to help; people in need of a blessing – and people who are called to be a blessing. But here’s the interesting thing: sooner or later in the course of our lives, we all fit into both categories. We have times when we are very much in need of help. And we have times when we are called upon to help someone else.
Ultimately, there is one kind of people who reflect both of these characteristics – depending on the circumstances. Today’s Gospel provides a good example. After a full day of preaching and teaching and healing, Jesus and some of his disciples head back to Peter’s house in Capernaum. Upon arriving, they discover Peter’s mother-in-law sick in bed with a debilitating fever. We all know what that’s like: you feel washed out, achy, no energy, useless – it’s an effort just to sit up. As is often the case with the stories of Christ’s miracles, there is no special drama or great spectacle. There’s no accounting of how Jesus does what he does – he simply does it. “Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up . . . and the fever left her.” Just like that.
We’re familiar with that feeling as well: when the fever finally breaks, when the pain goes away, when the symptoms disappear – it’s a great relief. It’s coming back to normal – back to life again. And what happened next? Did Peter’s mother-in-law have a glass of water, then curled up and went back to sleep – see you in the morning? No, she got up and got busy serving a houseful of guests. Now don’t misinterpret: this is not a male chauvinist proof text, confirming that it’s always and only a woman’s place to serve the men – Not at all. Instead, it’s a paradigm or parable of the dynamic that is evident in all our lives: how we are continually transitioning between being cared for and caring for others. Nobody is always in just one mode. We all have times when we are in genuine need of care. We are afflicted in body, mind or spirit – sometimes all three at once. We have needs we are unable to meet on our own. We need someone to reach out to help us.
It's equally true that all along life’s way we have opportunities to be of use to someone besides ourselves. Life takes on meaning and value in community, in relationship with family, neighborhood, school, workplace, congregation. To live in community is to participate in serving and caring for others. You are not a parent simply by having children – you’re a parent when you nurture them. You are not a neighbor merely by living next door – you’re a neighbor when you take time to care for someone.
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It’s characteristic of our human nature that we resist identifying with either category: we don’t like to admit we need any help. We can be reluctant to help others – we don’t like to owe anybody anything. St. Paul said: Owe no one anything except to love.
Here's the truth: Sometimes you need someone to change your diapers – and sometimes you need to change someone’s diapers. Sometimes you need a meal brought to you, and sometimes you need to bring a meal. Sometimes you need someone to shovel your driveway, and sometimes you need to shovel your neighbor’s driveway. Sometimes you need another person to hold your hand, and other times you need to take another person by the hand. Sometimes you need to be forgiven by someone, and sometimes you need to do the forgiving. This two-fold nature of human experience is what makes the Golden Rule so sensible – and so essential: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (and as they have already done unto you).
Over the course of his ministry, Jesus made two things very clear about people – about our human nature: One is that when Jesus speaks of the needy, he is talking about all of us. We all have deep and abiding needs. No one is good but God – we are all captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. Everyone is broken and imperfect. We all are vulnerable to circumstances beyond our control. We are fragile – and finally mortal. We need the warmth of human relationships – we are made for community, not to live in independent isolation.
The other is that we have God-given capacity and responsibility. We may be flawed, yet we still bear the ima