Scott Mims, Virginia Beach, VA

Warm-up Question

Who are some of the people who have the most positive impact on your life?  What do they do that is so meaningful?

Healing Touch

Give someone you know a hug!  In case you missed it, January 21 was National Hugging Day. First celebrated in 1986, NHD was primarily created to encourage family and friends to hug often (and consensually) with one another.  A vast amount of research has shown the importance of human touch when it comes to our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, which is one reason why the isolation of the pandemic has had such negative impacts on so many people.  

Studies show that positive physical contact is a basic human need that, among other benefits, can strongly convey a sense of being accepted and cared for.  A hug can help us feel less stressed and even boost our immune system. Remember, however, that not everyone experiences touch in the same way, and so it is always important to ask first and exchange consent.


12 — the number of hugs required by humans every day to be healthy. 

32% — the percentage of stress that is dispelled with a hug. 

20 seconds — the average time of a hug. 

4 — the number of hugs needed for survival. 

8 — the number of hugs needed by humans every day for maintenance. 

10 seconds — the hug time that leads to biochemical reactions in the body that boost health.

Discussion Questions

  • Take a look over the “National Hug Day By the Numbers.”  What do you think?  Do any of the statistics surprise you?
  • Do you feel hugs are an important form of expressing emotions and support among friends? Why or why not? Share a personal experience where a hug made a positive impact on your day.
  • Where do you stand?  Are you a “hugger,” reserved about your personal space, or somewhere in between?

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 40:21-31

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Mark 1:29-39

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Our gospel this week picks up where last week’s reading ended, just after Jesus has astounded everyone at the synagogue in Capernaum.  Not only has his teaching carried an authority unlike any they had heard before, but this authority has been further demonstrated by his freeing a man from an unclean spirit.  Now leaving the synagogue, Jesus joins his four disciples in the home of Simon and Andrew, where he is told that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick.   

Jesus, never one to shy away from broken bodies or broken spirits, goes to her and takes her by the hand and lifts her up.  This is not healing from a distance, but a connection with his loving touch.   Having been made well, she begins to serve them, demonstrating not only the kind of humble service Jesus calls those who follow him to do, but, in fact, embodies himself. (Mark 10:45)

Of course, it isn’t just Simon’s mother-in-law who is healed.  That evening, just as the Sabbath is ending, virtually the whole town turns up at the door.  They bring to Jesus all who are sick and oppressed by evil spirits.   And, as in the synagogue, Jesus continues to expresses his authority.  He overcomes the forces of sickness and evil.  In their place, Jesus gives wholeness and healing.  One can only imagine the excitement this causes, and it soon becomes clear that the people of Capernaum would very much like for Jesus to be their “hometown healer.”  

So, when Jesus slips away in the early morning darkness to pray, it isn’t just his companions who hunt for him; everyone is out looking. However, Jesus’ mission is not centered on just one town.  He has come to proclaim the good news of God’s gracious reign to all the world, and to make this good news both real and personal.  And so, our reading ends with Jesus leaving Capernaum to preach, heal, and cast out demons throughout the whole region.

So, how might we connect these stories with our own lives?  Certainly, we hear a lot about Jesus healing people and delivering them from the power of evil.  Jesus, however, was not simply a “wonder worker.”  The healings and exorcisms are a part of his larger message.  Along with his teaching and preaching they proclaim the truth of God’s love and power.  Not only does Jesus continue to bring healing and wholeness into our lives today, but, as those who live on this side of his resurrection, we are reminded that, despite the fear and despair we can so often experience, our world has already been claimed by God’s loving authority in Jesus.

We also see the importance of prayer and the power of human connection and touch. Prayer was a priority for Jesus.  Behind all of his public activity, his preaching, teaching, and miracles, lay Jesus’ total dependence on God. And so, even in all the busyness, Jesus makes the time to center his life in prayer.  Prayer remains one of the most important ways to connect our lives to the living presence of God who, through the power of the Spirit, has promised to guide and encourage us.  Prayer is also how we can “lift up” one another, especially in times of stress, sickness, or need. When accompanied by such simple gestures as a hand on the shoulder or a quick hug, our prayers can convey God’s love both powerfully and personally.

Discussion Questions

  • When you look at what Jesus does in this passage, what does it say about his priorities and mission?  How might his actions inspire or encourage us in our lives today?
  • What is your own experience with prayer?  How would you define “prayer,” and what role does it play in your life? Do you ever find comfort or guidance through prayer?
  • Do you think God answers prayer?  Why or why not?

Activity Suggestion

Prayer Partners

Have participants pair up with a prayer partner and ask them to share at least one intention or prayer request with their prayer partner. It could be something they are grateful for, a personal struggle, someone they know who needs help, or a goal they are working towards. Emphasize the importance of creating a safe and non-judgmental space for sharing. 

Once each person has shared, have the pairs take turns praying for each other. Invite them to keep it simple and not to worry about being formal or fancy.  Perhaps model this beforehand.

When everyone is done, spend a few minutes reflecting on the experience.  How did it feel to pray for someone else?  To have some pray for you?  Are there other people or concerns that your group can lift up in prayer?   

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious God, touch our lives with your loving power.  Where we are hurting, heal us.  Where we are broken, make us whole again.  Where we are anxious and fearful, give us your peace.  When we feel lost and unsure, guide our steps.  And when we feel down, lift us up. In Jesus’ name – Amen.