This passage occurs in the RCL Epiphany Season, Year B, most recently February of 2018.
Summary: Wow. What an amazing passage. When I first learned about Saint Anthony and the monastic movement, I thought it involved leaving this world for our own spiritual gain. Then I read that actually Saint Anthony was going into the wilderness to purge it from evil, not to get away from it. In the same way, I wonder if Jesus' prayer is about purging the wilderness from the demons. Everything else in this passage, even proclamation, is portrayed in the light of spiritual conflict.
To put it in a more catchy way: When you go to proclaim, do you expect to see the minions of the devil fleeing and fighting?
Note from 2018: When I read this passage in 2018, what struck me is that after Jesus prays, he is able to say no to the disciples and focus on the broader mission. As a leader, I often feel tugged and pulled. Only through prayer and conversation with God can we stay focused on the mission of our congregation as well as articulate this with passion and without fatigue and rudeness.
Struggle against evil:
κρατεω ("hold"; 1.31) The word here for hold is "krate-oo" which is not hold hand in a sentimental way. This is the word for power, as in democracy. This is the word for sieze. This is what Herod will do to John the Baptist (arrest) and what the Chief Priests want to do to Jesus. Jesus in Mark 1 is wrestling the demons, not smiling for the home video cameras.
ερημος ("wilderness"; 1:35) and εκβαλλω ("cast out"; 1:35-1:39): Jesus had been cast out into the wilderness (herehmos). Now after he casts out demons, he goes there to pray. Often times we think of monasticism as a wimpy and academic escape from the world, but for Jesus (and many of the first desert fathers and mothers) the movement into the wilderness means cleansing out the forces of evil.
Nature and purpose of the church:
διακονεω ("serve"; 1 31) Peter's mother in law has been freed to serve others, suggesting that our freedom comes with an opportunity to serve others too. It comes into English (and the ELCA) as Deaconness, Diaconal ministers and deacons.
This word comes into play three times in Mark's Gospel. Here and again in Mark 15, when Mark points out that the women were attending Jesus during his ministry. Finally, it comes in during Mark 10, when Jesus says he came to serve, not to be served. Interesting is that when this verb is in conjunction with Jesus it is in the aorist case, suggesting a one time event. In Mark and specifically in Mark 10, I would argue, the service of Jesus is to die on the cross.
επισυναγω ("gather"; 1 33) In this passage begins with Jesus leaving the synagogue. Now the people are gathering around him (syn-ago-ing!) Where is church? Where Jesus is...duh...anyone 2nd grader who has read AC VII knows that. Where Jesus is meeting humans in need.
κηρυξω ("proclaim"; 1:38) Proclaim is a great Lutheran word. But in this case it is not connected with the forgiveness of sins, but the expulsion of demons. I would offer that three key elements of the church: prayer, proclamation and service, all involve the conflict against evil rather than simply an academic escape or comfort and safety!
θεραπευω ("heal"; 1:34) Jesus' therapy session is on! Again here even healing is seen within the context of a struggle against evil.
Foreshadowing of Resurrection:
ηγειρεν ("raise up"; 1.31) and αναστας ("resurrect"; 1.35): These verbs both mean to raise up or resurrect.
λιαν πρωι (1.35; these words together mean early morning): They don't come back into Mark until chapter 16 when we get to the resurrection
θυρα ("gate"; 1.33) The word for "door" here is also gate, as in Jesus is the gate from John's Gospel. Or as in, there was a stone at the gate of the tomb (see Mark 15 and 16!).