Touch, Epiphany 5 (B) – February 4, 2018

Epiphany Episcopal Sermon

[RCL] Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

In the 1st Century world of Jesus, sick people only had a few options. The first thing they could do was try a folk remedy. These varied from sensible potions and poultices to downright dangerous “fixes.” Many folk remedies are still practiced today in the industrialized world and most are completely ineffective, especially with serious diseases and injuries.

The second thing a sick person could do was to pay for a physician to see them. This was costly and was not much more effective than the folk remedies. Most Greek physicians in the 1st century followed the teachings of Hippocrates, who is best known for his famous oath. Hippocrates codified the principles of Humorism, a belief that human health is defined as the perfect balance of four fluids, or humors. It was holistic, in that it saw the need for balance between the mental and physical, but the interventions by physicians often involved bleeding and draining of fluids, which would regularly result in a worsening condition. Treatment was expensive, and therefore only accessible to the privileged.

Another option for sick people in Jesus’ world was one or many religious healing practices. Every ancient religion had extensive teachings on healing, and most of it cost money. With these limited and ineffective options, sickness in the ancient world changed a person’s identity.

Sick people would stand out in a village. They were often visibly scarred or marked. Lepers were required to announce their coming by shouting or ringing bells. Most sick people became beggars, or wholly dependent on their family members for food and shelter. Being labeled a sick person led to very low status in society.

The identity of a sick person in Jesus’ day also carried with it the stigma of God’s judgment. In this society, most illnesses were linked to some sin or indiscretion, rather than a scientific cause. In Jesus’ ministry, he confronted some of these beliefs, showing how widespread they were.

The sick person in our Gospel reading is Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. She has a fever and is so weak that she cannot get out of her sickbed. Her condition is of concern to the disciples, and so Jesus is ushered in to see her. Perhaps a fever would not warrant such concern in our day, but it certainly did in Jesus’ day.

Jesus touches her hand with his hand. There is that touch that we see in Jesus’ ministry over and over again. She rises up at once and the fever leaves her. It is not a very dramatic scene; there isn’t any music or fanfare. There aren’t any spells or incantations. There is only a hand touching another hand. There is only Jesus reaching out to this sick woman.

And then we are told that she starts to serve them. She now has the strength to offer the customary hospitality to her guests. Her identity is no longer a bedridden, fevered person, but a gracious host to a visiting teacher and his disciples.

And then the zombies attack. Well, not real zombies, but a horde of sick, demonized, and injured people swarm Jesus, begging for healing. What we saw happen to Simon’s mother-in-law, we see happen to a multitude in the village.

Jesus reached out his hand to a sick woman. Now he reaches out his hand to the multitude just as he reaches out his hand to us. Jesus is here to heal you. Jesus is here to restore you to the community you lost. Jesus is here to restore you to a place of service to your community, so you can find dignity and purpose again. This is what Jesus does: he brings people back to wholeness and health. Jesus can bring you back to wholeness and health.

But all this healing takes a toll on Jesus; he disappears in the dark of night to pray. On these occasions of nighttime prayer, we are seldom told the content of Jesus’ prayers. They seem to be a conversation between the beloved son and his father, an intimate dialogue that may seem incomprehensible to the disciples or us.

The only time we know the content of Jesus’ private, nighttime prayer is in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed. On that night, he strained and writhed under the weight of what he was called to do as the Son of God. He pleaded for the cup to pass from him, even as he accepts God’s will for his life. This glimpse of Jesus’ prayer life may not be identical to all those other nights he prayed for hours in the dark, but we can be sure it was intense. Jesus’ sense of mission empowered him to do the work God had called him to do. When he is exhausted, he goes off and prays in the night, and he comes back renewed.

Perhaps we do not so much need rest as a renewed sense of our mission and calling by God. Perhaps more people would experience wholeness and healing if we spent more time in the dark with God. It was how Jesus found strength, and many Christian saints through the ages found time alone with God to be renewing and refreshing.

Jesus is reaching out his hand to us today, calling us to a life filled with service and community. Jesus is praying for us so we might have the strength to go into the dark with God and wrestle with our calling and mission. Jesus is with us, going before us, into the world God loves so much.

David W. Peters is the author of two books, Death Letter (Tactical 16 Press) and Post-Traumatic God (Morehouse, 2016). He is the founder of the Episcopal Veterans Fellowship and serves as the Associate Rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Tex.

Download the sermon for Epiphany 5(B).

Is there healing without curing?, 5 Epiphany (B) – 2015

February 8, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Sometimes it’s difficult to get a conversation started or bring discussion to a deeper level. Luckily, there’s a game called TableTopics that is meant to get conversation started between two people or group. TableTopics is a clear cube filled with cards that have one question on each, and there are a variety of versions out there, including a Book Club version, Family version, and Spirit version. Each person in the group draws a card and reads their question, and all take turns answering. The Spirit version helps people get into deeper conversation that is helpful for exploring personal faith, as well as getting to know others better.

For example, one of the questions in the Spirit version leads to a discussion about the difference between being healed and being cured. Is there a difference between being cured and being healed? Can you be cured without being healed? Can you be healed without being cured?

When we are physically ill, we want a cure to make us feel better. But even though we may be cured of our ailment, it doesn’t mean that we are healed. Our understanding of healing, especially in our gospel stories, means something more: It means a restoration of wholeness, particularly when it comes to our spiritual lives. When we are healed, even if we’re not cured of a physical ailment, we have the ability to rejoin our community in whatever way we can and be at peace on our path.

Throughout our lives, we meet people – and sometimes are the person – burdened with physical and spiritual illness. There’s a story about a woman who was in the hospital quite ill with cancer and estranged from her sister because of something that happened years before. She knew she was dying and talked to the hospital chaplain about her sister and how she was finally ready to stop nursing the grudge she had for all those years. She was ready to make amends. They prayed together about it and she cried because it hurt – not only to let the grudge go, but because she realized all the years and energy that had been wasted in maintaining that anger. When she was able to repent for her part in the estrangement, she was finally healed. She felt wholeness, even though her body was still sick. She felt right with God and restored to the community that she longed for.

When we are ready to be healed, it demands action on our part. It demands that we are ready to invite Jesus into that place that is wounded and help us. In our reading from the Gospel of Mark today, notice that Jesus doesn’t just seek people out who are sick; instead, they come to him, either on their own or through the disciples. Simon’s mother-in-law is brought to Jesus’ attention as soon as they got to the house, and as soon as he healed her, she immediately goes about serving Jesus and the others of the house. She was restored to her community and to wholeness. Her healing demanded a response.

It is interesting that the word translated as “serve” here is the same that Jesus uses to describe himself as the “one who comes to serve” and also the same word used when the angels “waited on” Jesus in the wilderness. This example of serving embodies the ideal of discipleship as service to others, which was what Jesus was trying to get people to understand. It was because of the mother-in-law’s encounter with Jesus that she responded with immediate discipleship.

Although Jesus continues to cure many who were sick and to cast out demons, he did not allow the demons to speak because he did not want people to know he was the Messiah, the secret that is a big part of Mark’s gospel. His fame was already spreading from when he taught with authority in the synagogue at Capernaum and cast out an unclean spirit there. But Jesus’ call was always first and foremost to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God; everything else, including the miracle healings and exorcisms, was secondary. They just helped him establish “street cred” as someone not to be trifled with.

As it happens in human nature, people were getting caught up with the messenger and not the message. We’ve all been there. We get caught up in the hype of someone who is charismatic, and the next thing you know, you’re buying something, giving away your savings, donating a kidney, or whatever it is that person has seduced you into. Jesus was trying to avoid that reputation, in a way. He didn’t want to be seen as just another wonder-worker, because that was not his mission. His mission was to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is here, through God’s authority, not human authority.

It is in the third part of our gospel story today that Jesus teaches us something else that is very important. After all that healing and casting out of unclean spirits, Jesus gets up in the early morning and goes out to a deserted place to pray. Observing morning prayers was a regular part of Jewish religious practice, and we know that the desert or the wilderness in biblical tradition were places where a person would make contact with God; so it makes sense that Jesus does this. After all that pouring out of himself in the previous days, Jesus needed to get in touch with God again. Being battered with the intense and desperate needs of the world can make things a little foggy. We know how that feels. When your boss needs, your spouse needs, your family needs, your school needs, your church needs, your friend needs, it is easy to forget what God needs. So Jesus goes out to pray and be reminded of who he is and what his mission is by the one who sent him.

The translation in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible for this passage is particularly descriptive. It says, “And Simon and his companions hunted for him.” Jesus was being hunted like prey being stalked by a lion.

How many times have we felt that way? The needs of the world around us are overwhelming – we could help people all day and never fully satisfy all their needs. Jesus is showing us another way. He is teaching us when we should say no to something. He is teaching us how to discern what God is calling us to. If Jesus had come to solve all the aches and pains of people on earth, then we would be sitting here with a very different gospel and none of us would ever catch the flu or have arthritis.

Jesus gets his priorities straight by talking to God, and he realizes it’s time to move on and proclaim the gospel somewhere new. There will always be more need than one person can deal with, that’s why discipleship is important. The response to an encounter with Jesus is a converted life – a life in line with manifesting the Kingdom of God in the world, proclaiming the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.

The theologian and Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, once said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” There’s a whole world out there that hasn’t heard the Good News yet. Isn’t it time that we followed Jesus and told them?

 

— The Rev. Danáe Ashley is the part-time associate priest at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. She is currently working on becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist. You can learn more about her on the Soul Spa Seattle website.

That same grace is offered to us, 5 Epiphany (B) – 2012

February 5, 2012

Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

It’s a simple little story, but the reading we just heard from Mark is one of the most moving, and most challenging, parts of this gospel. It’s from the first chapter of Mark, and it describes the second part of a sort of model day in the ministry of Jesus. We heard the first part of this day last Sunday. Jesus is in Capernaum, a small town northeast of Nazareth – and it’s his first stop on the road since his baptism and temptation. He’s had a heck of a day – he taught in the synagogue, drove out some unclean spirits, and healed, first Peter’s mother-in-law, and then, it seems, a good percentage of the whole town. In short, Jesus impressed the socks off everybody; he was probably the most exciting thing that had happened to the town since somebody burned down the tax office. But as interesting as all that was, the real crisis, the really important thing, was what happened next.

Very early the next morning, Jesus went to a lonely place to pray; and while he was there, Peter and the other disciples tracked him down and told him that the whole town was searching for him. Now, there are a couple of hints in the text that something big was going on. First, Mark specifically mentions Jesus in prayer like this only three times in his entire gospel – and each of these times is associated with a major turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Second, the Greek word used to describe the crowds searching for Jesus is sinister, which implies malice or misguided motives. So it’s very significant that Jesus, quite suddenly and without looking back, just up and leaves. Now, since Jesus was a big hit, this certainly wasn’t a lynch mob after him – that comes later. In fact, it was most likely exactly the opposite.

Most likely, the town really liked what Jesus had done, and they really wanted to keep him there so he could keep on doing it. The group searching for him was probably the first-century equivalent of a joint committee of the ministerial alliance, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Economic Development Board.

They were working on an offer to Jesus that he couldn’t refuse: they wanted him to set up shop in Capernaum – establish the Jesus of Nazareth Preaching and Healing Mission. The pay and benefits would be great, the hours negotiable, housing would doubtless be provided, and taxes could be deferred indefinitely.

There was no doubt that Jesus could really put Capernaum on the map. The tourist trade and healing business would be good for everybody – think Lourdes with a money-back guarantee – the tax base would grow wonderfully, business would improve, and the citizens would have their own miracle worker around the next time they got sick. It was a swell deal for everybody. Really, it was a good deal.

Now, one of the ways in which we deny Jesus’ humanity – and in doing that, remove his life from our lives – is by pretending that all of Jesus’ decisions were easy and automatic; that it was all reading from a script. That’s not how it happened. Jesus knew that the delegation from Capernaum was offering him security, safety, prosperity, and respect. These are things we all want, things everybody has always wanted. They are also things that Jesus knew he would never have if he left that town. If he became their resident rabbi, he wouldn’t have to be poor, his family wouldn’t think he was crazy, he could have a normal life, he wouldn’t have to be cold, hungry, or afraid for his life. In fact, his life would be easier and better in every way we consider important.

As we all know, Jesus would not have been the first to trade challenge for security; to exchange the possibility of greatness for the assurance of competence; to swap the call of God for the rewards that come from giving the crowds what they want. Not by a long shot. No, Jesus’ decision did not come easily. It was so hard that he did exactly the same thing he did on the night before the crucifixion – he went off by himself to pray, to sweat out a tough decision, to decide which voice to follow: the voices everyone could hear rolling up the hillside chanting, “We want Jesus”; or the other, quieter voice that said, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.”

He had to choose. There is a very real sense that all of creation held its breath, waiting to see what would happen.

Of course, Jesus’ story is our story – in basic ways it always is. We know the power of security, prosperity, safety, and respect – especially these days. We know how easy it is to settle – to settle for being just a little less than who we know we can be; to listen to those loud voices; to let their expectations rule. After all, there comes a certain point when questions like this begin to matter; when they begin to cost, when things get painful. And when that happens, the sense of who we are – of what it means to be the beloved child of God – can easily fade into the background. So we have to make choices, and whether we know it or not, the Lord of heaven and earth waits, to see what will happen. That’s one way we live out this story.

Another way is that we, as the church, have to make pretty much the same decision that Capernaum had to make. We have to decide what to do about Jesus. We have to decide what to do about this guy who comes to us proclaiming the kingdom of God, and bringing healing, and hope, and a vision of new life. In Capernaum they decided to take the part of Jesus they liked best – a good preacher, an effective healer – and capture it, institutionalize it.

They decided to locate him in their place, at their convenience, and for their purposes. They didn’t want to be challenged; they wanted to be coddled. They didn’t want to see beyond his gift of healing, to see what that gift might ask of them. They wanted to keep repeating the neat stuff. And in exchange, they were willing to offer him a very gilded cage.

Both throughout history and today, the church has faced this temptation of trying to hire Jesus – of assuming the Lord has come for our convenience, as one more resource we have for carrying out our plans. When we yield to that temptation, as yield we have, we find, sooner or later, and in spite of our best efforts, that the nice house we built for him is empty, and that he has gone on to the next town.

To be sure, we need to know him like the people in Capernaum did: we need to hear his word, and to know the power, the mercy, and the grace of his healing love. We can do nothing without that. But if we stop there, if we try to limit or control where the Lord is or what he does, if we try to pay him to keep up the good work, then we’ve missed the point.

Perhaps the only person in Capernaum who really understood all of this was Peter’s mother-in-law. We don’t know her name, but we do know, from her, the truth. It’s simple. “He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up. Then the fever left her; and she began to serve them.” She didn’t try to put Jesus in the medicine cabinet or in a shop down the street. She served. She moved beyond herself and the gift she had been given, to the Lord and his calling.

Such is our choice as we live out that part of today’s gospel. As the church, we can try to hire Jesus, or we can strive to serve him, which means to serve as he did. It really is a hard choice, as hard as our personal choices between comfort and faithfulness, as hard as Jesus’ choices between taking the cushy job or moving on.

Through the grace of God the Father, Jesus rose from prayer and told Peter and the rest that it was time to go. The people searching for him were disappointed, and the Kingdom of God grew in power. That same grace is offered to us, to all of Christ’s Church, as we are called to rise from prayer and to move forward in service. For the Kingdom of God continues to break into our world. And all of creation is waiting to see what will happen.

 

— The Rev. James Liggett is rector of St. Nicholas’ Episcopal Church in Midland, Texas. He is a native of Kansas and a graduate of the University of Houston and the Episcopal Divinity School. He has served parishes in Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Nobody is beyond the scope of God in Christ, 5 Epiphany (B) – 2009

February 8, 2009

Isaiah 40: 21-31; Psalm147: 1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1: 29-39

At first sight, it may seem odd that the lectionary offers us a reading from Isaiah that is all about God the cosmic creator and giver of power, and then there is a reading from Mark’s gospel that includes the small scene of Jesus’ healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. How does the might, majesty, dominion, and power of God the Creator, as set forth in Isaiah’s poetry, shed light upon Jesus exorcising demons and healing people in the Gospel of Mark?

The first clue lies in our liturgical context: the season of the Epiphany, which began with twin themes of our baptismal identities and the light of Christ shining in the world.

These themes led us first into readings about God’s call to us. By trying faithfully to understand the shape of that call, we have revisited our responsibilities as outlined in our baptismal promises. As we have been engaged in this, we have invoked the light of Christ to shine ever brighter upon our path, helping us to discern our ministries and mission in the world.

Now we turn to pick up another side to the Epiphany message: that Christ is a light “to the Gentiles” – to those who lie outside our usual framework.

Our Isaiah reading today shows the prophet encouraging his despondent hearers. It was a long moment of great crisis for our ancestors, who continued to live in exile away from the Land of Promise, without Temple or monarchy, and under the rule of a foreign, pagan people. Isaiah wants his hearers to know that their God is a lot bigger than they seem to think he is. Not only is God the maker of their covenant relationship, the maker and savior of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the savior manifest in the mighty acts of the Exodus, the God of Moses, the God of David, and so on; their God is also the Creator and maker of the universe.

In a magnificent reinterpretation of the first chapter of Genesis, our reading from Isaiah slowly and deliberately shows that in calling into existence the whole cosmos, God has also called into existence all the peoples of the earth. They are consequently under his divine jurisdiction as are the sun, the moon, the stars, and everything else “on high.” Therefore, although God’s understanding of the various nations and peoples may be quite inscrutable, the reach and scope of God’s activities are universal and endless in scope.

Beneath and behind the vicissitudes of any given political situation, this God is hard at work; for the God of Israel is also the God of the Gentiles. So even in crisis and in a situation where they cannot see any positive outcome, Isaiah’s hearers are instructed to “wait for the Lord.” By “waiting,” Isaiah means trusting, even when things look hopeless we are still to trust this God.

When we turn to the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, we find Jesus the Son of God manifesting the universal reach and scope of God’s activity. Because his gospel is first and foremost the Good News about Jesus, Mark does not worry about cosmic matters.

Unlike Luke, for example, Mark does not even fill out the historical and political context for us; he simply rushes Jesus onto the stage and shows the Son of God in action. Unlike Matthew, Mark does not paint in the background of Torah and the rest of the Sacred Writings. With Mark, it is for us to infer that this Jesus is Son of the same “God of the whole universe” whom Isaiah was talking about, and that the people of God are, once again, in some sort of historical and political crisis.

In last week’s gospel reading we saw that Jesus has the authority and power to cast out demons, and now we have a scene of Jesus with the power to heal bodily illness. In terms of Mark’s first-century audience, both episodes demonstrate the universal reach and scope of God’s activity embodied in Jesus. You and I would call psychiatrists, doctors, and spiritual directors when we have mental, emotional, psychological, or physical symptoms of some sort. In the world of the New Testament writers, such symptoms were understood as the manifestations of cosmic spiritual disorders.

What Mark shows right up front in the first chapter of his gospel is that God is establishing the beginning of His kingdom on earth in the person and work of his beloved Son, Jesus. This kingdom is about reordering the condition and priorities of peoples’ lives – not only in opposition to the political order established in King Herod and the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem, but also against what St. Paul and others generally call the unseen “principalities and powers” that operate outside the control of human beings.

These principalities and powers were every bit as important to the people of Galilee in the first century as their political oppressors. Jesus’ healing brought Peter’s mother-in-law back into everyday life in God’s presence. She is the first of several nameless women in Mark’s gospel whom Jesus heals and thus reestablishes to their proper social and religious lives.

The good news of God in Christ is intended to set us all free from everything that blocks our ability to “get up and go” into the kingdom of God in our time. Nobody is beyond the scope of God in Christ, no matter the crisis: not the people of Zimbabwe, not the Palestinians in Gaza, not the population of Mosul and Basra, not the men and women in the poppy fields of Afghanistan and Kurdistan, and certainly not your best friend with breast cancer or your uncle with Alzheimer’s.

Nobody and no circumstance is outside the reach and scope of this God. Yet for us, as for Isaiah, the ways of God in dealing with Zimbabwe, Gaza, Mosul, and Kabul are often hard to understand. What we have to do is trust in this God and live into our Baptismal Covenant as best we can. This means focusing on our own political reach, attending prayerfully to the scope of our created gifts and skills in the communities where we work and vote, sending the fruits of our life and labor to assist in God’s liberating work in places of crisis, praying for the peace of God, which alone can reestablish order in everyday life.

The Epiphany light is still shining on our paths so that we can be a light to the world.

 

— The Reverend Angela V. Askew is priest-in-charge of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, New York.

We will at last be made whole, 5 Epiphany (B) – 2006

February 5, 2006

(RCL) Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39 

“The fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

Most of us are familiar with Lourdes, the Roman Catholic shrine in southern France at which the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a saintly young woman named Bernadette a century and a half ago. Pilgrims today continue to throng the shrine, hoping to be cured of their ailments. Over the decades, thousands have left behind their crutches and braces as silent witnesses to the Lord’s power to make them well. This sort of thing is of course nothing new. From Compostela to Walsingham to holy sites in our own land, pilgrims throughout the ages have made their way to sacred temples, grottoes, and hillsides in hopes of finding healing and strength.

Some dismiss such journeys of faith as piety gone astray, as especially inappropriate in an age of therapeutic advances such as our own. The time and money would be better spent visiting medical experts, some might say. Yet many others have come to the realization that healing is an essential element of the Gospel message. Christians of all denominations have long treasured the scenes of healing found throughout both Hebrew and Christian Scripture. Surely, the Lord will not disappoint those who today come seeking his power and favor in their own lives.

The ministry of Jesus began with healing. Consider the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. No sooner had Jesus called his disciples to his side than he cured a man with an unclean spirit. Then, leaving the synagogue, he entered the house of Simon and Andrew only to find Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. Our Lord took her by the hand and lifted her up. The fever left her, and she got back about her life.

For those whose lives he touched – whether they were close to him and his disciples like Peter’s mother-in-law or whether they were perfect strangers gathered on the street outside the door – healing meant a second chance and hope where there had been no reason for hope. In an instant, healing brought freedom from physical debility as well as inner change and transformation. No wonder “the whole city was gathered” at Jesus’ door. The scene was probably not that much different from contemporary Lourdes at pilgrimage time. People know what works.

But healing was never an end unto itself in the ministry of Jesus. In his very first words, as recorded by Mark, Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” Healing heralded the coming of a kingdom that transcended this world of pain and death. And most importantly, this kingdom was within anyone’s grasp, not in some far off place. It offered lasting spiritual integrity in a world of human weakness and sin.

We are all still in need of healing, even at the peak of our physical vitality. After all, there are a lot of very healthy-looking specimens among us who seem to be anything but hale and hearty on the inside. You only need to turn on the television or open a popular magazine to find the latest fountain of youth or miracle cure touted and sold like kitchen knives at a carnival. But makeovers and the latest fad diets cannot assure us of happiness and fulfillment. Real transformation, as understood in the Gospel, will never be a passing fancy. For paradoxically, the gospel makes us acutely aware of our own ultimate frailty and death. Even those cured by Jesus became sick again at some point and eventually died.

This is the “epiphany” in today’s lesson. In the moment of healing we come to experience God at work within our lives, but only if we recognize our utter dependence on God and the kingdom. We have no power to make ourselves well. Jesus’ message would not have resonated with the people of his day, much less our own, had he not first led them to embrace their own vulnerability and need for God’s love. For Jesus, healing was not so much about breaking the laws of science – of which he as man could know nothing – as it was about the power of God to change lives and make all things new.

In our own English language the words “healing,” “health,” “wholeness,” “wellness,” and “holiness” all share the same etymological root, meaning “full” or “complete.” At whatever stage of life we may be – whether child, adolescent, middle-aged, or elder – we recognize implicitly our own deficiencies and lack of completeness. We experience our need for something or someone beyond ourselves. We need the Lord’s strength not only to make us well, but to make us whole.

Jesus “cast out many demons.” For some today, the quest for inner harmony and wholeness is undermined by the contemporary demons of addiction and other behaviors that lead to ruin and self-defeat, sometimes even to death itself. But for those in pursuit of the kingdom, wholeness comes only in oneness with God. And healing, however or wherever experienced, makes that oneness possible. Jesus took Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand and raised her up from her sickbed, and she was made well. Seldom was Jesus’ healing such an intimate and personal act. She came to realize, as no one else, the meaning of the kingdom and oneness with the Lord. But that closeness and oneness is ours to have as well.

How can you know when you have been healed? Seems like an odd question. For many, the answer is obvious: when the pain is gone, the fever has come down, and the disease is no more. But the gospel gives a better answer. “The fever left her,” we are told of Peter’s mother-in-law, “and she began to serve them.” As she was healed, she immediately began to serve others. When we are ready to help others in their need and focus once again outside ourselves we will know that we too have been cured. We will no longer be slaves to our hurts and resentments. We will at last be made whole. And we shall live.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus is priest-in-charge at Saint Alban’s Episcopal Church, El Cajon, California.