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  • John Bryant

Mark 1: 29-34: A Life in Christ for the Mentally Ill



29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon's mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

On the day when I’m thinking of this passage--this moment where Jesus make a servant of Christ out of touching the dead (or the almost dead) mother-- I’m outside of a local church that sponsors a coffee ministry on the street. And I see my friend Ben [name changed]. His hair is like a brillow pad. His thoughts, when he tells me them, don’t make a lot of sense. And clarifying questions on my end don’t yield any more sense out of what he is trying to say. But his eyes are kind and trusting. And he is glad to be drinking coffee with me, and I am glad that there is coffee to drink a table to gather around on the street. I’m glad for the time I have with him.


As I think of the passage, I think of Ben. And I think, primarily, of the life he has in Christ. Ben has told me he became a Christian a few years ago. The passion of my work, my commitment, is the discipleship of the mentally ill. Or better, the part I play in Christ’s ongoing discipleship of the mentally ill.

I’m convinced, even if Ben’s illness will not change his life in Christ can deepen. Why does he have to be mentally well before he can have a deepening and lovely walk with Christ? A walk as strange and lovely as mine has been.


I think of how, a year or two ago, I would have thought Ben’s life in Christ was a lost cause. Why? My first thought would be, “With a mental illness as shattering as his, what could he possibly understand?”

But then I look to this passage and wonder, “What do the dead understand?”

I look at this passage as the passage where Christ created a life in Christ out of nothing, created by a simple touch, a woman who could vigorously worship and serve Christ from a woman who was almost dead. Jesus can create a family, a people, by speaking to the dead and telling them to rise.

What has to happen before Ben can a life in Christ? The only thing that has to happen is Christ has to die. And what does Ben have to be before he can have a flourishing, vital life in Christ? All Ben has to be is spiritually dead. What recommends us to Christ is our spiritual death, the only thing he needs is our great need.


I go in to check on something in the church--we must be out of napkins or something. I come back and Ben has wandered on down the street.


I think to myself, “I should let him go,” but then I think, “No, I’m going to call him. We can do morning prayer, and he can read the psalm and the creed. He likes that.”


And he turns and smiles and that’s what we do. He grabs another cup, and two others people walk up and join us. And I think I might hear the Lord say, in my heart, “Here, here is what Ben’s life in Christ is like. I have not limited myself to what Ben can understand. Even if Ben cannot hold a thought of me he can have a life in Christ.”


When I think of the Gospel, I think of an audible Word that gathers a visible People to an Edible Feast.


Ben has life in Christ that includes being spoken to when he’s crossings the street. Ben has a life in Christ that includes me seeing him, and him seeing me. Ben has a life in Christ that includes me handing him the coffee, and him taking it.


And I have that same Life in Christ, and It’s promise: Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again.


And Christ says, to all my hopes and fears of discipleship, “You do not need to create a life in Christ, you need to nurture it.”


“But all he has is trust,” I want to say.


And the Lord says, in my heart, “And Anyone who can trust can be transfigured.”




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