By The Rev. Sherry Deets

5 Epiphany – February 5, 2012
Mark 1:29-39

As Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee he has called disciples. In the Capernaum synagogue he healed a man with an unclean spirit by “rebuking” the spirit and calling it out of him. The amazed local folks talk about this new teacher and exorcist everywhere. Meanwhile, after this healing in the synagogue, Jesus returns to Simon Peter’s house. There lies Simon Peter’s mother-in-law in the grip of a fever. Understand that this is no small matter in the ancient world. A fever was not only debilitating for a short while, but was often a symptom of a condition that would lead to death. We know nothing from Mark about this fever — its intensity, its duration, or its cause — but we do know a valued family member was unable to be up and about her work. Her calling had been taken from her by an illness.

While there’s a lot going on in this passage and chapter, I want to focus on just one little verse: “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them” (1:31b).

What’s so special about this verse? Well, several things, actually. First, there is both the tenderness of Jesus taking Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand, and at the same time the power of Jesus “raising her up,” a Greek verb that Mark uses in connection with healing at a couple of points but which, significantly, is also used to describe what happens to Jesus at Easter (Mark 16:6). As Sarah Henrich writes in her commentary, “The word suggests that new strength is imparted to those laid low by illness, unclean spirits, or even death, so that they may again rise up to take their place in the world.”

Second, once the mother-in-law is healed, she is ready to serve. There is a poignant restoration not just to health but to a calling. Again Sarah Henrich puts it so well:

[I]llness bore a heavy social cost: not only would a person be unable to earn a living or contribute to the well-being of a household, but their ability to take their proper role in the community, to be honored as a valuable member of a household, town, or village, would be taken from them. Peter’s mother-in-law is an excellent case in point. It was her calling and her honor to show hospitality to guests in her home. Cut off from that role by an illness cut her off from doing that which integrated her into her world. Who was she when no longer able to engage in her calling? Jesus restored her to her social world and brought her back to a life of value by freeing her from that fever. It is very important to see that healing is about restoration to community and restoration of a calling, a role as well as restoration to life. For life without community and calling is bleak indeed.

So, let’s go back to that sentence again. Jesus “came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her”. The power of touch, of intimacy, or nearness, to make whole: Jesus must have understood that which we are too often too slow to comprehend. Love not expressed, love not felt, is difficult to trust. Theologically speaking, that is the reason for the incarnation. God knew the human need for nearness. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love, which makes it all the more demanding (if not frightening) to realize that for some people, we are the only Jesus they will ever meet.

Stephen Covey tells the story of being in a New York subway car one Sunday morning. In the car with him were several unruly children and a young man who appeared to be their father. In an effort to maintain some peace in the subway, he asked the man if he could keep his eyes on his own children.

Clearly the children needed supervision. But the reason the objection was made had more to do with his own need for quiet, not the man’s need to be a good parent, and not the children’s need for proper boundary setting. The man immediately apologized and then offered an explanation. They had just come from the hospital where his wife – and the children’s mother – had died.

Knowing that piece of information changed their relationship. It was a shift of paradigm from his personal need for quiet to the needs of this family. Stephen Covey and everyone else in the subway car began to respond differently to the man and to the children.

Illness is the condition where you are bounded by yourself alone, collapsed in upon yourself and isolated from others. Illness is the condition where your world is yourself only and you are the main preoccupation. Jesus heals this illness by restoring a fullness of life that breaks the bounds of self pre-occupation and opens up a world of love, forgiveness and deep relationships of compassion, mercy and peace. You can see the implications of such healing, for one example, of the person living with AIDS who may not in our lifetime have his disease cured but may certainly be welcomed into the community and healed of his social illness.

This is the true purpose of healing that Jesus offers then and now — that you and I and all persons would find a place to serve freely and with gratitude; restored to community and focused upon a larger world than self alone. As one friend put it, we are saved to serve. We are made whole in Christ, in order to be agents of healing in the name of Christ — proclaiming good news by the way we live with others and for others.

What kind of social healing in the Spirit of Jesus may be asked of us? I don’t know, but I do believe that if Jesus still has hands that offer a healing touch they are your hands and mine; if the living Christ has eyes that look with mercy upon the suffering to offer hope, they are your eyes and mine — and if we turn our eyes away we are failing to use for others what Christ has given us. Charles Hoffacker writes, “All true healing is the work of Christ. Each of us need to ask ourselves now, “Where is Christ at work healing me? In what aspect of my life do I feel his touch, do I see his light? How is Christ now at work in my life to change me so that I become the person God wills for me to be?

Each of us would do well to spend some time with this question both today and in days to come: “Where is Christ at work healing me?” How can I announce the good news of this healing – this transformation that Jesus Christ brings to all?”

Will you let Christ begin his healing work in you today?

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