Reflecting on Mk 1:29-39 • January 11, 2021
In our modern age we have the most sophisticated health care than at any other time in history. Our technology for delivering health care has never been more advanced. So, the questions from the unbeliever becomes; why do we need God for healing? What do we who are surrounded by modern medical technology do with this gospel story of Jesus’ healing?
Modern Christians should be asking; why was healing such a big part of Jesus’ ministry? Was our Lord simply concerned with providing healthcare? Are we to believe that the healing Jesus offers is for the physical body only? And why has such healing seemed to vanish in modern times? Do we simply not have enough faith, as some contemporary "Word of Faith” evangelists will tell us?
I can’t believe that simply not having enough faith is all there is to this healing thing.
No, I don’t believe it because I have stood, as many of you have, around the hospital bed when sincere, faith-filled prayers for healing have been raised on behalf of the sick person and no one has been raised up out of bed.
How many of you, as I have, stood in the bedroom or, more often, the family living room where hospice care-givers, who so lovingly care for the dying have created a mini-hospital. I have never experienced a healing where someone was restored to health immediately as if their disease where an interruption and now life could go on as before. I have laid hands upon the sick and prayed prayers for healing, both mental and physical, but no one has yet to cast their wheelchair aside to dance a jig again.
So Jesus’ healing, at least in the context of our time, must mean more than physical restoration because, yes; I have actually experienced people being healed, even though their physical condition did not change, at a more profound level they were restored to peace, wholeness of heart, and a readiness to face death with faith and acceptance.
I learned recently that anthropologists distinguish between disease which is a biomedical condition affecting the organism — and illness which is a condition that disvalues a person causing disruptions in social relationships and loss of meaning. Illness is different than disease that is biomedical; illness is a social problem that in the New Testament is closely related to sin. Sin and illness go together and both may be healed by a restoration of the social relationships that have been ruptured. (See, Malina & Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. P. 210)
Look again at the story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus restores her to her proper position in domestic society. The sign of her healing is not simply that her fever vanishes but that she is once again serving those in her home. We mustn’t forget that the healing occurs on the Sabbath when no work is permitted — including the work of healing — a great irony since the original purpose of Sabbath-keeping is that renewal, restoration and healing of relationships in God would occur as we take our place in the rhythm of God’s Sabbath rest.
Jesus disobeys this social-religious norm to heal this woman and by so doing demonstrates his willingness to transform all norms that have become barriers to the fullness of God’s purpose being realized in human lives. By disobeying this norm he restores the norm of Sabbath rest to its original purpose to bring life and renewal by dependence upon God’s mercy.
He reaches out his hand to touch the woman’s feverish hand, surely shocking those present who knew that no woman was permitted to touch a Rabbi. Again, Jesus sets aside the established norm to bring into being that which God intends for every creature, life abundant and whole. He heals this woman by restoring her to life in community.
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 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. And what about those with mental disabilities, or physical ailments, or chronic disease? They too can find life and wholeness in the community that embraces them in Christ, even if their physical conditions do not change.
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. The other day while visiting someone in a nursing home I stepped out of the elevator and into a room where frail men and women were slumped in wheel chairs in a posture that made my neck hurt looking at them. Their chins were on their chests or their heads were leaning limply on one shoulder. Some were drooling. All the chairs were lined up in front of a television showing a soap opera and the sound was much too loud for any one, even those hard of hearing. It was a miserable sight. But then something unexpected happened.
A young girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, stepped away from her mother who was visiting someone else. With her mother’s encouragement this little girl placed her hand upon the hand of man slumped in a wheelchair, numb, the living dead. She looked at him and smiled as she said her name. “What’s your name?” she asked. And, I believe I witnessed a healing taking place in the living room of that nursing home. The man tilted his head up slightly and looked at her. His face broke into a smile and he said his name. Then the little girl went from person to person in each wheelchair offering the same healing touch and the same welcoming benediction. No one tossed a wheelchair out the window and no one danced a jig, but I believe we all experienced, for a moment, the restoration of the community of life where everyone has a place. This is the social healing that Jesus brings through people like this little girl.
No, I’m not presenting the above to minimize the miraculous. I believe that God is still in the miracle business (so-to-speak). I personally have experienced some wonderful and unexplainable things, which could only be attributed to the hand of God.
Besides challenging the socio-religious norms of His day, Jesus’ healing and other miraculous acts were performed to attest to His divinity — presenting irrefutable signs of His authority, in the context of fulfilled prophesy. When the followers of John the Baptist questioned Jesus regarding who He was, "Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor…” Religious Jews of that day would have immediately recognized that statement as a messianic reference from the Prophet Isaiah.
Does God still perform healing miracles today? Nowhere in scripture does it tell us that miracles would only be active in the Apostolic era, as some Christian sects will tell you. From my personal experience, I can tell you that the miraculous does still happen. However, rather than praying expecting a miracle, we look to God’s divine providence, asking that His “will be done.” What we believe, is that faithful Christians have already received spiritual healing, in being saved by faith and grace through the self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Gospel Mk 1:29-39
On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them. When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him. Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.” He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.