Don’t look now, but we here at Resurrection are soon to engage in a congregation-wide Lenten Bible study as we never have before. It is called: ‘Opening Up the Book of Faith’…and comes to us as a challenge from the top down, meaning our own ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson, who implores us not to just pick up our Bibles…but to “open them up” in study…as we seek to set our hearts on fire with the Word of God.
Today you will be hearing more in a Temple Talk from Lynn Manthei…as to what we will be studying and how every single one of us can get on board by signing up beginning today…out in the foyer. What I can go ahead and say…is that we will be focusing on the Gospel texts appointed for each of the Sundays in Lent, which should make our Confirmation students really happy. In case you haven’t noticed, they are required to turn in a number of sermon outlines throughout the year…with today’s lesson coming again from? You guessed it…the Gospel of Mark. So let’s see what Mark has for us today.
Between last weeks story of how Jesus healed a man possessed by a demon and today’s text where we find Jesus being rushed off to the home of Simon Peter to heal Peter’s sick mother-in-law…one would think that ‘this business of healing’ would take top priority on Jesus’ agenda. As the saying goes, scratch any human life…and you find a pain of some sort just under the surface. Ain’t it the truth…if you’ll pardon my Southernism! Finding a human being without an ailment is like finding a car that never runs low on gas. And as nice as that would be in light of today’s economy, it simply does not exist.
Which is probably why it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear of ordinary people (like you and me) literally “swarming” to Jesus in hopes of finding a cure for whatever ails them. In the case of Peter’s mother-in-law, we are told that she was in bed with a fever which makes her unclean to touch…and a problem for any self respecting Rabbi trying to follow the rules. And yet right off the bat, we see that Jesus is already beginning to set himself a part from everyone else in the class.
Without batting an eye, he enters the room and taking her by the hand…he lifts her up. The fever departs…and she begins to serve them. Notice that this takes place on the Sabbath, since they had just returned from worship in the synagogue, and once again…this Jesus sees nothing wrong with bending a few rules, even “healing” on the Sabbath Day.
But our story doesn’t end there. Then there is the healing of the many. Apparently news travels fast and just as soon as the Sabbath was over, people no longer felt restrained from seeking out Jesus. They came in droves. A “constant stream of sufferers”, as one commentator put it, displaying every type of ailment, deformity, and crippling disease under the sun…only this time, the sun wasn’t shining.
Mark says that ‘the whole city was gathered around the door’ as he took them in his arms, one by one by one…and did what they “expected” of him. Sabbath or no Sabbath, it didn’t matter one bit to Jesus. As he will later state in Mark 2:27…”the Sabbath was made for people, and not people for the Sabbath.”
It is interesting to note that nearly one half of the verses in the Gospel of Mark relate to Jesus’ ministry of healing. Leaving us to surmise that for Mark, “the message” appears crystal clear: Jesus relieves the whole range of human ailments. None is excluded. Without regard to who we are, in Christ…God wants to restore us to a state of health and wholeness. In other words, Mark wants us to know that God is interested in our “well” being and will use every means possible to reach those who are ill or sick with a gift of healing.
Yet…there is a problem in this Gospel. When Jesus got up the next morning, while it was still dark, he decided to get some air and went walking in the direction away from where all the action had taken place the day before. That in it self should tell us something important right off the bat. What he did next is something that he will do a thousand times again whenever he can steal some down time away from the expectant crowds. He prayed…that is, until Peter found him and challenged him in that lonely, deserted place.
“Everyone is searching for you,” he said…as if that was really going to make a difference. Peter thought Jesus should return and finish what he had already begun. The people were all stirred up…and now that their expectations were raised…Jesus had no business withdrawing from those he could heal.
Jesus’ response to Peter was not what Peter expected. “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that…I may proclaim THE MESSAGE there also; FOR THAT is what I came out to do.” Jesus response to Peter was that his mission…despite all signs to the contrary…was NOT to try to cure what ails everyone in sight. His mission…was to deliver a message. And that message must take precedence over his healing ministry. Lest we forget, it was Mark who put it into words (Mark 1:15):
“The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”
For the life of me, I can’t help but believe that there really isn’t quite the disconnect that appears to be in today’s lesson…between Jesus’ ability to heal…AND his announcing the message of God’s kingdom drawing near. To me, they are two sides of one coin. Even as Jesus is stating that he must move on to other towns to preach the good news…he is not saying that he will no longer be in the business of healing and casting out demons.
On the contrary, Jesus knew, that if there was one thing that draws a crowd it was the “expectation” that a healin’ was about to take place right in front of their very eyes. And they would not be disappointed. Whether the crowds realized it or not…even believed in the good news or not…the second his words resonated in their ears, the kingdom of God began breaking in.
Which leads me to expect that during the season of Lent…as we begin to open up the Book of Faith and delve deep into the Word, we will no doubt experience a healing presence that can only be found when the kingdom of God draws near. Thanks be to God…that healing presence is none other than Jesus himself. And yes, he still heals…even on the Sabbath Day.