Just a few days before, Simon—who was also called Peter—had been going about his life in perfect contentment, living a good life in a fishing town called Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. But then, Jesus came walking into Simon’s town and showed him another way of life was possible. Jesus came walking into Simon’s life, and now he wanted more. He wanted so much to know what journeying with Jesus would mean for his life, what Jesus’ life would mean for the world. But above all, Simon wanted to know: Who was this man?
Word was already starting to go around that Jesus could do remarkable things, and Simon had seen of this with his own eyes, miracles that Simon could not explain. And so, Simon brought Jesus to his home to stay the night. Simon wanted to have this mysterious and marvelous man walk through his doorposts, sit at his table, and sleep beneath his roof. But as it does in any community, news that Jesus was in town spread fast through the village. Soon, neighbors were bringing their sick relatives to Simon’s house, and sick person after sick person after sick person were put before Jesus tied up in suffering and would walk away completely cured. Who was this man?
The city buzzed with word of him, so that soon the entirety of the town was crowded around Simon’s house to see what was going on. Because, it was not just garden variety coughs and sniffles that this man called Jesus was putting to rights. Even those who had been deemed incurable, those who seemed taken over by some demonic force, possessed by some malevolent spirit, they too were brought before Jesus to see if he could restore them to their right selves. And those poor devils, as soon as they caught sight of Jesus, their eyes flashed with recognition. They seemed to know him, to have met him long ago and in a different place. They were bursting at the seams to blurt it out, trying desperately to shout out who Jesus was—but by some unbreakable and invisible bond, Jesus held them all silent until they were sent howling back to wherever it is that demons dwell and the one who had been delivered stared blinking and astonishingly at a man who—for the life of them—they could not recognize. Who was this man?
It had been an unbelievable night at Simon’s house, something he would remember for the rest of his life. But night’s dark turned into sleep, which turned into morning. When Simon awoke, Jesus was gone. He was just gone, nowhere to be found in the house, nowhere to be found in the empty village streets just beginning to wake up with the sun’s first light glancing off the roofs. He must have slipped out of bed while Simon was sleeping and just walked out the door, letting night’s velvet darkness close behind him like a curtain. Or perhaps, this had all been just too good to be true, like a beautiful dream that seems so real when you are wrapped up in it but which crumbles into obvious fantasy upon waking. With Jesus, it seemed to Simon that something grand and holy and tender was beginning, life more blessed than he ever thought possible. But now, Jesus was just gone, and Simon could not go back to the life with which he was once contented. Jesus was gone, and Simon had no way to answer the question that burned in his mind like a live coal—who was this man?
So, Simon went searching for Jesus. More than searching, the word the gospel of Mark uses is that Simon hunted for Jesus. Through every street and alley, in every secret corner of the town, Simon hunted, down along the shore where just a few days before dawn Jesus had found Simon mending nets, out farther away from the water, out into the wilderness, into the dry places of the desert, Simon hunted. Until at last, in some deserted spot, in some empty and forgotten place far away from any wandering feet, Simon found Jesus.
Jesus was there, alone…and he was praying. Just praying. But why? Why go so far away? Could he not have prayed there in Simon’s house? Or somewhere near at hand? Or if he was to go far away, at least tell people he was leaving? In fact, far from telling anyone where he was going, Jesus slipped out of the house quietly enough that no one woke up. Far from finding a nearby spot to be alone, Jesus walked out past the empty streets of Capernaum, out past the hills far away, out into a deserted place. Jesus went to great lengths, unusual lengths, and for what? Jesus needed to be alone. It is as simple as that. After a night spent healing every sick person in Capernaum, of wrestling life out of death, and casting the forces of chaos into order, Jesus was tired and needed to be alone. Who is this man?
What Simon learned there in the desert, is that whatever else Jesus was: mighty prophet, wise teacher, wonderful counselor, Jesus was just a man very much like any other. He had every human need the rest of us do. He needed to sleep, would be hungry at the end of a day, and his throat would be dry after a dusty walk along desert roads. He had compassion for people who were suffering, and he would get angry when people would criticize him unfairly. He spoke with free flowing love for his friends and was not always able to find a word of peace to say to his enemies.
As Christians, it is easy to focus on and remember those things that Jesus could do that we cannot do—we like to remember the miracles that danced on his fingers. But, we also have to remember those things that we cannot do, that Jesus could not do either. We also have to remember those things that we cannot do, that Jesus could not do either.
We cannot work all day every day without rest and time to be refreshed, and Jesus couldn’t either. Jesus was not a boundless and bottomless fountain of energy and time and patience and spirit and charity—there were limits to what even he was capable of. After a night spent healing every sick person in Capernaum, of wrestling life out of death, and casting the forces of chaos into order, Jesus was tired and needed to be alone. And the human limitations of Jesus, those are good news just as surely as are his miracles. In the human limitations of Jesus, we see lessons every bit as instructive as Jesus’ parables. Who is this man? He is the son of God, and he is also a child of humanity, made of the same stuff as you or I. That is a good thing, something from which we can learn.
You see, as followers of Jesus, we are not called to be perfect. We cannot pour our hearts out in service to others and never run dry. Our lives would be poorer and our service meaner were we to try. We cannot make life what we wish it might be by fitting in one more email, or one more hour on the elliptical, or one more SAT prep class, or one more TED talk. Immaculate busyness does not make a good life. As Christians, our limitations are critical to living life as it is intended. Were I to have boundless energy, why would I ever need to turn to another and ask them to join me in my work? Without my limitations, I could never forge strong bonds of mutual need between sisters and brothers. Were I to be able to simply add eternally on to my to do list without ever losing sight of the whole for the clutter of the parts, why would I ever bother to invite other leaders to take up what could be theirs to do, were they but to stretch out their hands? Without my limitations, I could never call forth the gifts of others around me.
It is a peculiarly Christian idea, that my limitations and my failures might be of equal importance to who I am in God’s eyes as are my gifts and graces that my days of dragging myself across the finish line might be of greater worth in God’s eyes as when I feel like dancing through the day. It seems almost dangerous to think that God might be making use of my brokenness to bring forth my most important work.
And yet, there is the witness of Simon—who was to be called Peter, the rock of the church—Simon found Jesus out in a deserted place, having slipped away from his friends in the middle of the night to find a deserted place because he was tired and needed be alone. Out in that deserted place, Simon saw the secret messianic plan of God. In the strength of Jesus, Simon saw the possibility that Jesus was a mighty prophet. But in the weakness of Jesus, Simon saw the possibility that Jesus was none other than the savior of us all.