The first of the healing stories of Jesus in Mark’s gospel happens at the very beginning of his ministry. We’re still in the first chapter. Jesus has already been baptized, tempted in the wilderness, called some disciples and cast out a demon, and that’s just the first 28 verses! Most importantly, he has proclaimed the vision by which his life’s work will be guided, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.”
The Jesus movement is still small and local. His first followers are two sets of brother fishermen, Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John. We get a tiny peek into their lives right at the beginning of their time with Jesus because they’re still in Peter’s home town of Capernaum. They’ve been to the local synagogue for the Sabbath where Jesus has both taught with authority and encountered an unclean spirit which he has silenced and cast out.
How do you follow up that kind of a morning worship service? Most Sunday afternoons, my husband Bryon, who is a Lutheran pastor, and I meet up for brunch at Patty’s Egg Nest and then go home to take naps! It makes sense that Peter invites Jesus and the disciples over to his house, which is in the neighborhood, for a Sabbath meal.
Like many Middle Eastern households of the time there are multiple generations living together, in this case Peter and his wife, possibly their children and his wife’s mother.
Like so many women in the Bible, Peter’s mother-in-law isn’t named. She may have been a widow since she was living with her daughter and her daughter’s husband. She was older, female, dependent. She probably had a shared room in this small home of a poor fishing family. Her contribution to family life included cooking, child care and cleaning. She was undoubtedly important to her family and valued, but she wouldn’t have been known much outside of the home.
And she was sick. Sick with a fever that had incapacitated her and might kill her. Powerless to get out of bed, too poor for a doctor, with no available treatment. And here’s what’s remarkable. Jesus has not yet healed anyone of sickness or disease. Peter and Andrew are just beginning to discover his authority and power but they don’t really know who he is or where all this is leading. Even so, they take their Rabbi straight from a place of authority and honor, where he has been teaching in the synagogue to a small back room where an older woman is lying sick in her bed.
All sorts of rules of propriety are broken by this action. A new student puts his teacher in a very difficult position by asking Jesus to heal his mother-in-law. A stranger, an unmarried man enters the private space of a respectable woman. An observant Jew, one learned enough to teach in the synagogue, touches a diseased person and heals her on the Sabbath.
Peter’s mother-in-law is immediately restored to full health and she enters the public sphere, first by serving Jesus and his disciples and, on that very same day, as a witness to the healing power of Jesus. By the time the Sabbath ends as Saturday evening arrives, everyone in the area has heard about this healer who casts out demons and cures the sick. Jesus never gets his nap as people in need surround the home where the woman has been healed.
You can imagine the kinds of needs brought to Jesus. They’re not much different from the ones we bring before God now. A friend or family member with cancer; broken relationships; the demons of alcohol and drug addiction; fear and anxiety; depression and discouragement; anger over injustice; concern for the future. And there are times when the trouble is so deep in our soul and we don’t know if Jesus is there to hear our cares or if his power to heal is real. We may be as weak as Peter’s mother-in-law, unable to reach out to Jesus by our own strength.
That’s kind of how the last week has been for me. The needs around me have been overwhelming. Some of our homeless guests are quite desperate and I fear for their health and safety. One young man asked me to pray for him that he might die. A dear cousin and a friend from college have both been diagnosed with life-threatening diseases. Others are struggling with abuse and harassment by people they should have been able to trust. The daily revelations of the disease and damage to our democracy by those who are supposed to be the keepers of it is scary and disheartening.
It can be hard to pray. It can be hard to believe that God has the power to heal, forgive and restore our broken humanity. All that troubles us can result in the additional burden of isolation. We get shut away in the dark rooms of our disease and damage, cut off from others, shut away from God.
And this my friends, is why God has put us in community. God has placed us into the very Body of Christ so that we may be connected and knit together by God’s Spirit. When we cannot pray for ourselves or the world, the church will keep praying the Prayers of the People, weekly, daily, hourly.
It turns out that a woman at St. Paul’s in Bellingham, where I have done some consulting work is praying daily for me and for St. Luke’s. She heard about our ministry and has committed for the past year to pray for us. Plus, the congregation sent their Easter offering of nearly $4,000 to the Edible Hope Kitchen last year.
We maintain a prayer list at St. Luke’s. People call to add names. They send in prayer requests from around the world through the website. They write down requests on the prayer list found on the information table and put concerns into the Prayer Request tub at Edible Hope. When you join in the Prayers of the People, you are holding all these requests up to God. You are like Peter and Andrew, bringing those in need to Jesus for healing and wholeness.
Healing can also come in the freedom of release.We can be released from self-loathing and guilt over past behavior. We can be released from the hurts and wounds of our upbringing and freed to live as who we are truly called to be. We can be released from the destructive tendencies that plague our lives and enslave us to the small gods of indulgence, selfishness, greed, apathy and other spiritual unhealthiness.
Each week as together we confess before God all that we wish to be freed from and we want to leave behind, we receive absolution, the forgiveness of God proclaimed for us and marked on our bodies as we sign ourselves with the cross, the reminder of the triumph of truth over error, righteousness over sin and life over death.
Sometimes we need healing touch. We need Jesus with skin. Someone to be Christ for us in our time of need; to lay hands upon us; to speak words of faith, hope and love when we are struggling. At St. Luke’s we have prayer ministers with years of training and experience in praying. During communion they are always available to pray quietly or even silently for needs spoken or unspoken. They will provide a space for God’s presence in your deepest need.
It may take time to see and experience God’s healing. It won’t always look like a miraculous restoration of life to the way it used to be. It will always involve the wholeness and integrity of the individual. It will always draw us closer to God and into relationship with others. It will always show us how, as healed individuals, we have the ability to serve others.
As we are healed and transformed by the love of God, we are called to share the gift with others, bringing them to God through prayer and service.
5th Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12
1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39