“And all the city was gathered together at the door.”
What sorts of events bring people together in one place nowadays? Last summer people poured out onto the streets of our city to riot and loot shops. A few months later crowds gathered at the door of St Paul’s Cathedral to protest against our current financial system. Trafalgar Square regularly sees gatherings of people to celebrate national festivals or call for some sort of political change. In the next few months people will gather in large numbers to mark the Diamond Jubilee, watch rugby and football tournaments, and attend the Olympics.
But how often do people gather in large numbers at the door of our church? Not so often. Every Christmas Eve hundreds pour in for Christingle and Midnight Mass. Every summer the church fills to capacity for the summer lectures. But most of the time we have no problem accommodating the size of crowd that gathers at our door. Perhaps people nowadays do not expect the church to meet their most pressing needs.
Jesus was constantly besieged by crowds. The gospel tells us that he often had to slip away before daybreak to have a little space for prayer and rest. The crowds came because he offered them something – not just the entertainment value of a charismatic preacher, but unstinting service to each person individually. He gave without reserve to everyone who needed his help.
Typically Jesus forgave, exorcised and healed in a personal encounter. In today’s gospel we hear that he took the hand of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and lifted her up. He restored her to her normal busy and hospitable life. When word got out, the crowds came rushing to the door, bringing the physically sick and those bedevilled by spiritual and mental problems.
Jesus gladly served anyone who needed his help, without distinction or preference. The people he healed included women, children, Gentiles, lepers, Samaritans, reviled sinners and outcasts from society. He showed us what a privilege it is to give our time and skills to others.
Today is Education Sunday. On this day we especially give thanks for those who offer service in teaching and supporting learning of all kinds. Every one of us who can read, write, count and think has a debt of thankfulness to the patient professionals who helped us learn. Our teachers may have had large classes to deal with, but they had to give time and attention to each one of us in order to meet our individual needs.
Our society is good at bringing together crowds of complainers and protesters. We are reminded today that we should gather to praise and thank as well. Some of us do it in church. But we can all go in person to those who teach our children or support adult learning, and thank them for the service they offer.
And perhaps we can do more. We can ask our church school, and others in the community where we live, what specific things we can do to help them. Serving as a school governor, listening to readers, raising money for school projects, telling the good news of our local schools to our neighbours are some of the ways in which we might support the service that educators provide.
Jesus did not leave it to others to meet people’s needs. He did it himself, gladly and freely. May we also gladly serve those whose needs are shown to us.